Category Archives: Rock and Roll

Gear Review: Union Tube & Transistor “Swindle” Distortion

swindle-1With a name derived from its Sex Pistols-inspired color scheme, the “Swindle” distortion pedal from UT&T seems designed to emulate the BIG GUITAR sounds of the ’70s. With just two knobs —  volume (left) and gain (right) — the Swindle delivers a trouser-load of boost and a smoothly ascending gain. The controls are very interactive, eliciting a surprisingly wide range of raunch, and the pedal cleans up quite nicely with a some roll-back on your guitar’s volume knob, making it a prime candidate for an “always-on” tone shaper that can also cut through the mix when it’s time for your solo.

Check out my no-frills video for some Swindle riffage:

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Video Demo: Black Cat Monster K-Fuzz

I plan on getting around to doing an actual review of this bad-ass stomp box, but for now here’s a quick video of some noises I made with BC’s new Monster K-Fuzz pedal, based on the Kay Fuzz used most prominently by Daniel Lanois and U2’s The Edge. Beginning tones are with the K-Fuzz in its Silicon and Stock settings, Input Gain at noon. I’m playing a Dearmond M-66 with stock Dearmond tron-style humbuckers through a Quilter 101 head on its “Tweed” setting, and there’s a touch of MXR Carbon Copy delay to add some space to the sound. I start out using the EXP out to sweep the Monster’s “Frequency” control via a Moog expression pedal. Later on you can see more clearly how Frequency relates to the K-Fuzz’s Tone when I unplug from the EXP jack and use the big knob in the top left corner to sweep through the Frequency/Tone filter.

Gear Review: Blackout Effectors LE Mantra (Hi/Lo Gain Mod)

Mantra LE Hi/Lo Gain ModI was looking for a new flavor of overdrive, so when I read about there being a low gain modded version of the Mantra from pedal-makers Blackout Effectors, I immediately headed to their website to check it out. There are still a few of these LE versions (slightly ‘blem’) available on Blackout’s Customs page at a very good price, but I was able to score an even better deal on Reverb. It was definitely a worthwhile purchase. Not only do you get the seering, over-the-top high gain of the standard Mantra, but the “Lo” setting reminds me of my much-missed Hermida Mosferatu. So, not super-low gain — although you can dial back the gain, and your guitar volume, for some pretty sweet, full, clean tones — but a very nice option for those of us who like those hard-to-find tones in the margins and spaces between the sounds we are all familiar with. Another aspect of the Mantra I was impressed with was the EQ. With only Bass and Treble knobs I’m able to dial in some very different tonal shadings, and there are obvious aural differences along the entire sweep of both controls. One thing for buyers to note: there are two internal trimpots inside the pedal which, according to the folks at Blackout, are used to ‘tune’ the JFET transistors. Do NOT goof around with these and expect your pedal to sound better; you are just as likely to end up with no sound at all! And if something seems awry with your Mantra, this is also a good place to do some trouble-shooting. Using a small flathead screwdriver you can adjust the internal trimpots with the pedal on; listen for the point where the sweep of both trimpots yields the greatest overall pedal volume. Pick up one for yourself at Blackout Effectors’ online store or search for the best prices on new or used ones on Reverb.

Here’s a no-frills video I made, going through some of the low gain tones (and giving you a brief taste of the standard, hi-gain Mantra):

Gear Review: Big Sound, Little Muff; Or, this Pi’s for You!

Big Q I can’t answer: “The EHX Big Muff Pi is conspicuous for its very ubiquity. But does it really deserve its exclusive status as the “fuzz of all fuzzes”?’

Few if any axe-grinders have taken to the concert stage without the giant silver wedge of an Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi at their feet at one time or another. My first was an army-green Sovtek that I picked up at the local music store/pawnshop I frequented in my teens. I remember being fascinated by the Cyrillic lettering on the pedal’s wooden box, both amazed and confused that this piece of Soviet engineering had found its way to me, in Morristown, Tennessee. I knew nothing of the Big Muff’s long history, or that Sovtek was really just Electro-Harmonix (builder of my first stomp box: a red and black “Small Stone” phase shifter) in exile. That big green wedge was gateway to a whole new universe of tones — and volume — and it was a mainstay at my feet for the better part of twenty-five years. When I sold ‘Big Green’ in order to finance some new gear I coveted, I almost immediately regretted it; despite there being countless new,  Judge-Me-By-My-Size-Do-Youdifferent, and even ‘fuzzier’ options available, I missed the tried-and-true sound of my BMP. After a flirtation with going fuzz-less, I was soon pulled back toward the furry side with the EHX’s Big Muff Pi w/ Tone Wicker, which found a home on my board until, lo and behold, I happened upon the Nano Big Muff Pi — the most unintentionally oxymoronic pedal of all time. How can it be ‘nano’ and ‘big’ at the same time?

Not being a wizard myself, I can’t tell you what kind of spell Mike Matthews and his Brooklyn-based coven slapped on this Lego-brick of a stomp box. What I can tell you is that they somehow shrunk all the best parts of the Big Muff Pi into a teeny enclosure that somehow generates its own unique brand of fairy dust. I have both a newish, big-ass-silver-box “NYC” BMP and a newish Nano BMP, and the Nano stands shoulder to shoulder in terms of in-your-face hairiness, and outshines the full-size BMP in clarity. Maybe my ears are biased, but the Nano actually sounds better to me: just a little bit sharper, letting just a wee bit more of my pick attack come through.

Now, if EHX could just get with the program and start using center-negative 9V inputs like everyone else does, we could really get down to business!

 

 

Stomp Box Fever #1

So, lately I’ve been on kind of a pedal kick. Since I’ve decided to go back to using a smaller amp — a fond farewell to my Vox AC15 and a big hello to my new purple Vox AC4 (and also to a black 2005 Bad Cat Mini Cat, which I’m still thinking of selling — I just feel so decadent owning three guitar amps … I’m counting the little Fender G-DEC I have, too) — I appear to be making up the difference by acquiring pedals as well as adding old pedals back to my effects chain. Not only am I buying and selling stomp boxes via Reverb and eBay — I’ve bought three, sold three — but I just joined and received my first pedal from Pedal Genie, which is like a Netflix (or Neckflix) for guitar pedals. I got a Caroline Kilobyte, which is supposed to create all sorts of crazy-cool lo-fi sounds. I’m hoping to hook it up early tomorrow morning and wake up the sleepyheads upstairs!

As of right now, my pedal board is rocking a Boss TU-2 chromatic tuner (thanks to Jared Bentley), a Modtone Funk Filter Enveloper (basically an auto-wah), a Visual Sound Garage Tone Drivetrain (an overdrive modeled on my old fave, the Reverend Drivetrain II pedal, used mainly for chunky rhythm), an Electro-Harmonix Soul Food overdrive (mainly for leads),  Visual Sound H2O stereo chorus/delay, and a Mooer Micro-DI with a built-in 4 x 12 cabinet simulator. I’m using the H2O as a delay and signal splitter so that one effects send goes to the amp, while the other goes to the DI and then into the PA board. The little 4-watt Vox then acts as my stage monitor, which I can adjust without affecting the signal that’s going to the board, as the sound man will be working with the signal coming through the pedals and then the DI/cab simulator.

I bought a Caline Pedal Power 5 to eliminate the need for multiple wall-warts or batteries, but it’s much noisier than I expected. I’m going to try a few different configurations and see if that helps, but I still have a one-spot with a multi-plug that I could use. The Caline was supposed to be quieter as it supposedly has isolated circuits for each power output … but it sure doesn’t sound like it.

I’d like to get a good Tremolo and a good Reverb pedal. The only real downside of the Vox AC4 is that it doesn’t have the AC15’s awesome built-in tremolo and reverb. I tend to use tremolo quite a bit, so I’m definitely going to need that … and where would guitarists be with reeve? In any case, I’m torn right now between getting one pedal that is both, like a Strymon Flint or a VHT Melo-Verb — or two separate ones, like an E-H Holy Grail  (reverb) nd a Z-Vex Sonar (tremolo).

Other than getting the humming power supply problem out of the way and the order/configuration of the pedals set, I’m hoping that I can eventually try out a Wampler Thirty Something between the H2O and the DI to see if I can improve my tone through the PA. This pedal, designed by Wampler with the help of Queen’s Brian May, is supposed to be pretty close to a Vox AC30. They are pricey, though, so I’m hoping I can try one out through Pedal Genie before I shell out the big bucks for it.

Well, that’s enough of my nerdy guitar blathering. If you are a guitarist or musical experimenter or any sort, check out some the links above.

Remembering Lou Reed

It’s been a few weeks since the passing of Lou Reed, and I’ve been meaning to write a bit about what he meant to me. When I think of Lou, and VU, I think about …

> Finding an eight-track tape in a bargain bin at Howard Brothers’ department store in Jefferson City, TN when I was 13 (or 14)? It was the last gasp of the eight-track world, and loads of good stuff was to be had for cheap. But the best thing I scored that day was a tan-colored tape with a black and white picture of two men in gas masks on the front. It was labeled The Velvet Underground: Archetypes, but it was actually White Light/White Heat, the second Velvets album. That was my first taste of Lou and VU, and it was extremely strange. My friend John and I played it over and over again, particularly “Sister Ray” and “The Gift” (where you could pan the stereo all the way to the right and just hear John Cale’s dead-pan reading of the story of poor Waldo Jeffers, pan it to the right and you could hear the band at their experimental-rock weirdest).

> Learning Lou’s melody guitar part to “Ride into the Sun” from Another VU  so we could play it at a variety show over at West High School in Morristown; I was 17. Definitely a highlight of my young life when the solo came and John stomped on his fuzz box and that crappy Fender Mustang of his blasted through that old Peavey amp.

> Bonding with Robert Alfonso, who’d soon become my best friend and songwriting compadre, over covers of “Femme Fatale,” “Sunday Morning,” and “Pale Blue Eyes,” and hearing Berlin (especially “The Kids”) for the first time in the kitchen of his tiny “house” on Earnest Street in Johnson City. I was 19.

… and, EVERY time I played “Sweet Jane”/”Rock and Roll” with RRSL. Too many times to count, too much fun to ever forget.

Thank you, Mr. Reed. Thank you for everything!

reed

You can find a good bio/obit here on the Rolling Stone site, if you are looking for more info on Lou Reed and his music.

These go to eleven!

In tribute to this marvelous date — 11/11/11 — I present the following:

“These go to eleven …”

Nigel Tufnel: The numbers all go to eleven. Look, right across the board, eleven, eleven, eleven and…

Marty DiBergi: Oh, I see. And most amps go up to ten?

Nigel Tufnel: Exactly.

Marty DiBergi: Does that mean it’s louder? Is it any louder?

Nigel Tufnel: Well, it’s one louder, isn’t it? It’s not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You’re on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you’re on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where?

Marty DiBergi: I don’t know.

Nigel Tufnel: Nowhere. Exactly. What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do?

Marty DiBergi: Put it up to eleven.

Nigel Tufnel: Eleven. Exactly. One louder.

Marty DiBergi: Why don’t you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?

Nigel Tufnel: [pause] These go to eleven.

And Superdrag’s heartfelt rawk tribute to a girl,

Spinal Tap-style: “My baby goes to eleven …”

Day 27 – A song that you wish you could play: "The Green Manalishi"

“The Green Manalishi” by Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac is my (current) guitar holy grail: I really need to just sit down with it for a couple of hours and suss it all out. This song haunts me, dangit … but not as badly as it haunted Peter Green. What exactly IS a manalishi, anyway?

Day 26 – A song that you can play on an instrument: “Blackbird”

“Blackbird” by The Beatles is still the only song that I can really fingerpick, and I invariably whip it out whenever my hands touch an acoustic guitar. Brilliant (and beautiful) in its simplicity. Here’s a great video of Paul working out an early version of the song with producer George Martin:

Lucky on the Side: The Extree!

We’ll be promoting “Lucky on the Side: The Extree!” today on WETS-FM’s Studio One program. You can listen in the Tri-Cities at 89.5 FM at 1 pm EST, or online at WETS.ORG.

You can purchase “The Extree” online only on our bandcamp.com site — $1.99 download in any format you like!