Over the past few years, I’ve been simplifying
[well, that’s one word for it]
my guitar effects boards, and had ended up at a ‘big board’ which had lots of options, and a ‘small board’, which did the basics
[both of them very well]
More often than not, it was the small board that I ended up playing, because I used the effects on the big-board on only one or two songs during a multi-set gig.
Now that the new line-up for Monkey68 is practising regularly, I’m getting to revisit my approach to pedals; mainly in light of the fact that, as the lead singer in a rock trio, it’s really hard to tap-dance on pedals – and I need to get back to my point-and-click approach.
So, with all that said, what did I play at practice last night?
Reverend Guitars Double Agent III
I am lucky enough to own and regularly play a number of great guitars and, for my money, at their price point Reverends are very, very hard to beat. The Double Agent pairs a classic humbucker in the bridge with a fat P-90 in the neck, and it snaps and growls in just the right way for what I do.
But you don’t want to hear about the guitar, you want to hear about the pedals! So…
Here’s the chain:
1) TC Electronic Polytune Mini – fantastic functionality, tiny footprint, what’s not to love?
2) Xotic EP Booster – I’ve written about this one before, but it’s always on at unity just to add it’s special sauce to my raw tone.
3) Dunlop MXR Phase 90 – did somebody say Gilmour?
4) Build Your Own Clone Silver Pony – A Klon Centaur clone for $79? Don’t mind if I do. One of the best overdrives I’ve owned.
5) TC Electronic Flashback Delay – using this as slapback on my clean settings, or as a specific front-of-house effect on particular songs.
6) Xotic X-blender – here’s where it gets interesting, and this is a new solution this week (* see below).
7) TC Electronic Spark Mini-booster – the best clean boost I’ve tried, for one you just need more!
* So what’s the X-blender all about.
With Monkey68, I wanted a lead tone that really cut through the mix, with a reasonable helping of extended delay (because things get EMPTY when the rhythm guitar stops in a trio). With all the pedals described above, and with my amps dirty channel thrown into the mix, I can get the sound BUT it takes three pedal presses, often while I’m singing the chorus or middle 8 leading into the solo.
Similarly coming out of the solo, needing to hit the vocals strongly, while hoping I’m pressing the right thing off.
Bearing in mind that I really, really dislike presets
[I used a Line6 Pod way back in the day in front of my amp, and hated not being able to switch things in and out on the fly]
and just needed something that was always available over-and-above whatever sound I’ve got going on, for a long while, I’ve been considering wiring an expression pedal to deliver a parallel loop functionality – off in toe-up, full-on in toe-down. While I was researching, I came across the X-blender while researching and it does exactly what I need
[though I’d still prefer it in an expression pedal rather than the large blend knob]
So, in the loop of the X-blender, I have an Xotic BB Pre-amp Mid-boost model, set to deliver a mids-heavy boost, driving into a Dunlop MXR Carbon Copy analog delay. It’s a searing lead tone on its own, but with the blend at about 50-60% against the regular signal, it’s just the right amount of boost and effects for what I need to do.
And one true bypass switch on/off (i.e. it’s there or its not there)
I’ll be playing with physical placement over the next few weeks, but given how it sounded last night
[particularly with the Reverend]
it’s very close to done.
ADDENDUM – I FORGOT THE AMP!
I suddenly realized that, because my focus was on the pedalboard, and X-blender in particular, I didn’t mention the amp I was playing through last night!
It was my 1996 Marshall JTM-615:
[the picture isn’t of my amp, which is down in the practice space, so I can’t get a pic now]
It’s a 60W 2-channel amp, with independent channel volumes going into a single power stage master volume, and both series and parallel effects loops. Spring reverb with independent level controls for each channel. The transformer is UK-spec, but built to be rewired for 110V AC if necessary; an easy mod.
The main strength of the JTM-615 is that it has a clean channel to die for
[on the verge of break-up, it does just what you expect it would]
which takes pedals very, very well. I could gig quite easily on that channel alone, and have, because…
The gain channel isn’t much to write home about for what I play – it gets fizzy very quickly and, to my ears at least, the dirt sounds similar to a distortion pedal rather than valves getting pushed. OK, but not great.
Of course, I may be spoiled by the fact I’ve been playing Budda, Mesa-Boogie and Vox amps since I gigged the Marshall regularly with Grope, so I’ve got used to some pretty iconic tones
[and I’m also much better able to use those tones now]
The JTM-60 range of amps wasn’t around for long, just a couple of years. Came in a variety of head/cab sizes. Guitarist magazine gave it a great review and I got to try it at the London Music Show before plonking down my cash
[my original Sessionette:75 2×10 had blown up at a gig a week earlier]
I was mostly playing my Strat at the time and the 15-inch speaker rounded out its tone nicely. Even with that, it’s a very bright amp, particularly if you don’t angle it up
[a low level amp stand is a must for most gigs; if it’s pointing at your legs, it’s undoubtedly calling to every dog in the neighbourhood]
I think that Marshall thing of leaning towards all-frequencies-all-the-time is partly what makes the drive channel fizzy – dialling back the presence, treble and, particularly, the mids makes it much more workable
[which is why the Xotic BB MB booster cut through so well when kicked in]
The JTM-615 is my practice amp, and gives me what I need to woodshed tunes with Monkey68.
I do use it on a gig every so often now – ironically because it’s a great option when no pedals are on the ground; the guitar volume and tone controls can cover a lot of ground when both channels are used appropriately. Truth told, though, for live now, I much prefer my Mesa amps.
Still, last night, my little-big-old-UK Marshall brought the tone :)