Saturday, January 7, 2012

The religions of guitar pedals

Note*  Before reading this blog, if you think MP3 songs or iTunes are pretty okay-sounding then get a vasectomy or hysterectomy now because you've sacrificed quality for convenience to the point of ruining America.  Once the surgery is complete, you may continue to read.

After 22 years of playing guitar (questionably badly) one gets to a higher-evolution of being a "Tone Hound".  Getting that exact tone is key to expression of one's self.  Certain devices in series from your fingers to your guitar's innards and into a recording device, ending in someone else's ear like aural bukkake is a magic thing.

You'll notice some good bands sound a bit like crap, while some crap bands sound good, at least subliminally you'll notice it at the very least.  Some average bands get a good engineer or some key gear and they sound phenomenal on one or maybe two albums.  Case-in-point would be Metalica on their Black Album.  Pretty mediocre guitar work overall, favoring palm-muting at any given point, loving progressive bands but rarely progressing, yet the sound engineer and gear all aligned properly to create such a great album that the next two crappy albums, Load and then ReLoad were still heralded as great works from the afterglow of their "Black" album.  Pulling back, a few outstandingly great gems stand-out for them but most of their work, honestly, sucks.  No, really.  It does.  You endure a few crappy songs only to hear One or Creeping Death or Eye of the Beholder.  The anticipation of it makes-up for the rest of the bad songs.  Jethro Tull's Aqualung was like this too.  Engineered perfectly and every song very good to perfect, and eventually released in quadraphonic (which is pretty bad-ass for 1971).  Following this album was A Passion Play which is a bunch of random notes like a sonic computer thrown in a mulcher, amplifiers at eleven.  Pure crap.  Still, somehow, A Passion Play charted number ONE on the US Pop-album charts in 1973.  Number freaking ONE.  The album has only one 45 minute (and 5 second) song on it with NO breaks of pure cacophony.  Bleep, blonk, Zwi--ing!  Seriously.  That's how good the album Aqualung was.  It kept A Passion Play afloat for weeks, impossibly!  There's a lot of examples of this.  Sometimes a band can create some super awesome lyrics or great guitar sounds, or have a flashy front-man but almost always, it's the gear that makes the tone.

Over the years I've collected a few pieces of gear that I thought were nice.  I have my 1993 Ibanez Saber that I've customed a bit more by changing the pickups, strings, and what-not.  I put it on lay-away when I was a poor Airman.  My weekly salary was $178 per week.  The guitar cost me $1300 at the time.  Still got it.  Went across the world with me a dozen times.  Case wrecked from that.  Good mahogany tone.

I have a Digitech 2112 with the Digitech upgrade chip to the 2.11 specs.  Great tone with vacuum tubes.  I replaced and upgraded the tubes to matching 12AX7 Euro-spec gold-plated tubes.  Sounds lush.  Becky got it for me in the '90s.  Works great.  Knobs sometimes act flaky, but that's okay.  The 2112 allows me to select different chorus and echo effects and distortion and what-not, which is good.  Tone-wise, however, there are a few better single effects out-there for more signature sounds.

To emulate a band, the best way is to buy exactly their gear, then you'll sound the same.  Ancient gear (like Led Zepplin's) is very expensive now.  Almost no one can afford it, and that's if it's even working at all.  Replacement parts are impossible, as manufacturing techniques have changed.  Certain sources of clay for resistors have moved.  Even the grains of clay have a tonal impact!

This is why tone is a religion.  Smoothness or quirks.  Analog over digital.  Some people take the antithesis of this and buy ONLY new, digital gear.  Some digital gear IS preferred, which is the scary thing.

The Digitech 2112 allows for this and has an pedal chain OUT and IN line which can have extra pedals attached.  Solitary effects for more lushness.  It's hard to explain but listen to Heart's Barracuda intro.  Listen to the guitar how it flanges.  This is the use of a flanger effects pedal.  Just one kind of pedal to create a swooshing effect.  Originally, flanging was done by during recording, pulling and releasing the recording tape on the reel-to-reel recorder.  That process is pretty insane now-a-days and almost impossible so it's done semi-artificially by use of pedals (such as Heart's Barracuda) and others.  Newer bands try to emulate it but they cannot unless they have the same Flanger pedal (or better).  New is usually NOT better for effects in the same way a classic Stradivarius violin is better than a new, supposedly superior carbon-fiber one is.

Each solitary add-on pedal (despite my multi effects) has it's own life, it's own.. religion and a rabid following.  There are rabid, intense followings of various chorus pedals out there!  Mono or stereo?  YOU decide!

Common effects are as such:
  • Chorus (ambiance)
  • Reverb (reverberation aka room or hall echo)
  • Delay (longer echo like in a canyon)
  • Distortion (crunchy guitar sounds most rock guitarists do)
  • Phaser (think U2's Mysterious Ways intro)
  • Flanger (think Heart's Barracuda intro)
  • Tremolo (think Tommy James and the Shondell's Crimson and Clover)
  • Wah-wah (think Jimmy Hendrix)
  • Talk-box (think Peter Frampton's Do You Feel Like We Do?)
  • Overdrive (a milder distortion, like ZZ Top or SRV)
  • Compressor (holds the note a LOooong time)
  • Fuzz (a buzzy, low-fidelity distortion like in Rolling Stones' Satisfaction)
  • Noise Gate (removes hiss and buzz from external pertubations)
  • Pitch shifter (makes your guitar go up or down several octaves)
  • Harmonizer (harmonizes your guitar by copying it up or down a fifth, octave, etc.)
This is the majority, but there's definitely others and new ones are being created all the time!  Within each category, there's a whole religion based on it.  Take chorus for instance.  Within chorus' community, there are dozens of excellent pedals.  There's the Strymon Blue Sky (which is lush and excellent), the Boss Chorus CE-2 (Japanese model 1983), 1979 Boss's Chorus Ensemble, Electro Harmonix Holy Grail Chorus... the list goes on and on and on.  (and on).  One such pedal I'm getting in the mail is from a guy's basement: a reverb pedal called Stereo Wet.  Amazing stuff.

I've done tons of research on each pedal selected (thanks to YouTube) though digital audio copies online is the best I can do as some pedals are near-impossible to seek out on-foot.

I've chosen the following:
Boss Chorus CE-2 (1983 made in Japan)
Stereo Wet Reverb by Neunaber Technologies
Behringer Graphic Equalizer and Preamp booster
Behringer Vintage Analog Delay
Boss PH-1r Phaser (1980s made in Japan)
Danelectro Hash Browns Flanger (to be eventually replaced by a TC Electronics Vortex Flanger)
Boss ML-2 Metal Core Distortion (haven't tried it yet)
Ibanez TS9DX Turbo Tube Screamer Overdrive (1983 made in Japan model)
Brian May Red Special effects pedal by Queen (autographed)
Boss OC-2 Octaver  1979 edition (made in Japan)
1978 MXR BadAss Distortion
Digitech 2112 (v.2.11 upgraded to 2120 with foot-controller and solo-boost)
BBE 882i Sonic Maximizer
Boss EH-2 Sonic Enhancer
Behringer Tube Studio Pro preamp
2x10 Crate 200W PowerBlocks into Celestion speakers
PreSonus AudioBox USB (soon to be upgraded to PreSonus AudioBox 22VSL USB 2.0)

Now if I can only learn how to play!!!!!

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