interview - The ToneQuest Report



interview - The ToneQuest Report
Mountainview Publishing, LLC
A most
excellent hang...
Our interview with
Little Feat guitarist
Paul Barrere
The Player’s Guide to Ultimate Tone
It’s August... It’s hot.
This is hotter...
The return of
Dixie Chicken!
Review –
The Rivera
Venus 3...
a dual 6V6
1x12 that will rock your
Mike Piera
on the history of
$15.00 US, JULY-AUGUST 2009/VOL.10 NO.9
Paul Barrere
All of the good, good times were ours... in the land of milk and honey
And time, time adds it’s scars... Rainy days they turn to sunny ones
Livin’ the life, livin’ the life lovin’ everyone. “All That You Dream” – Paul Barrere
Of all the places on Earth, one has served as the undisputed breeding ground for human creativity
and artistic expression in the past century, and that place is Los Angeles, California. Aside from
Hollywood’s role as the film capitol of the world, Los Angeles was once the golden rose of the
music and recording industry – both in support of film, and as the default destination for established and aspiring musicians of every conceivable musical genre.
Review –
Analogman Comprosser
The King of Ponce
on Amp Mods...
Jeff Bakos
gives it up on his
When less is more...
the Amp Preserver
The momentary
suspension of
disbelief and the search
for the holy wail...
Without clarity,
you got nuthin’
Bob Burt’s
Clean Boost,
heirloom pine
Lindy Fralin’s
While rock icons like Neil Young and Tom Petty were compelled to migrate to L.A. in the pursuit of
successful careers, others were lucky enough to have grown up in and around the Hollywood Hills,
Laurel Canyon and Santa Monica. For them, the vibrant L.A. club scene was familiar territory no
matter where their musical interest might lie – from The Fez, where David Lindley was first exposed to
the oud through Hami Safino... to the Ash Grove, where musicians went to see, hear and keenly study
other musicians, and the revolving kaleidoscope of trippy clubs on Sunset – the ultimate showcase
destination for bands with hopes of ‘making it’ in the ‘60s.
One aspiring musician who grew up on Mulholland Drive in
Santa Monica was Lowell George. After passing through an
assortment of short-lived bands beginning with The Factory
(where he first met drummer Richie Hayward), The Standells,
and The Fraternity of Man, George landed with The Mothers
of Invention long enough to appear on Weasels Ripped My
Flesh and Hot Rats. While working with Zappa, George
demo’ed a song he had written titled ‘Willin’ featuring Ry
Cooder on guitar, which in no small way became a catalyst
for the birth of Little Feat (a name inspired by Jimmy Carl
Black’s laconic reference to Lowell’s size 8 feet...)
Meanwhile, Paul
Barrere – an L.A. guitarist from the same
Hollywood orbit as
George – had been
paying his dues in a
band called Led
Enema. Lowell must
have detected more
than a little talent
lurking within the
younger Barrere,
since he impulsively invited him to audition for Little Feat
first as a bass player – an audition that Barrere failed, since
he didn’t actually play the bass... Following a tepid commercial response to Little Feat’s first album, Lowell approached
Barrere again to join an expanded lineup that would include
Hayward, Billy Payne, Kenny Gradney and Sam Clayton –
this time as a guitar player. Sailin’ Shoes had just been
released, and the band hit the road in support of still another
stellar Little Feat LP that failed to stir the attention it
deserved. When the band returned to L.A., they recorded
another gem destined for gold – Dixie Chicken. More touring
ensued, but George’s ongoing disillusionment with the music
industry resulted in the band briefly breaking up, only to
reform in Maryland to record Feats Don’t Fail Me Now – an
album that finally succeeded in attracting national airplay
and an ardent following of new fans. Little Feat’s hot hand
continued with The Last Record Album, featuring “Rock &
Roll Doctor,” “Oh, Atlanta” and “All That You Dream,” followed by Time
Loves a Hero, and
the excellent live
album, Waiting for
Columbus. Despite
Little Feat’s commercial success
and popularity in
the U.S. and
abroad, George’s
restless nature
drove him to pur-
sue a solo career as the band’s last studio album, Down on
the Farm was completed. Lowell released one solo album,
Thanks I’ll Eat It Here, and while on tour in Virginia he died
of cardiac arrest June, 29th, 1979 at the age of 34.
Little Feat re-formed in 1988 with Fred Tackett added on guitar and singer Craig Fuller. Their new album Let It Roll
instantly rekindled the band’s popularity, which had grown to
legendary status as their early recordings continued to be
discovered and savored for what they had always been –
timeless, hook-laden classics that deftly explored a broad
swath of essential American music – from folkie blues, country-tinged ballads, southern boogie, ‘70s fusion, and straight
ahead rock & roll. Steady touring and recording supported by
diehard Feat fans around the world have kept Little Feat
working ever since, and we caught up with them in Atlanta
on June 6, 2009 – the last show on a tour that had taken
them to Europe and the East Coast.
Now, playing in the town for which one of your biggest hits
was named is cheatin.’ But the packed house at the Variety
Playhouse would have been packed anyway... People know
what they’re gonna get at a Little Feat show – a flawless,
high-energy rip through the band’s considerable catalog of
unforgettable songs, delivered with fresh energy and conviction by a supremely talented and veteran group that clearly
still enjoys making music together. Unlike some tired ‘nostalgia’ acts held together by nothing more than a paycheck, the
gang in Little Feat hardly look as if they are serving a prison
sentence. Their easy smiles on and off stage are genuine, as
is their obvious enjoyment in making people happy doing
what they were meant to do. It’s a good life if you can swing
it, and Little Feat do swing.
We don’t often spend much ink on documenting historical
facts that could easily be referenced on the web, but in
respect to Little Feat and Paul Barrere in particular, the historical perspective offered here yields inspiration. Afterall,
how many bands are still really cookin’ with no slippage after
nearly four decades? After a long period in which Little Feat
featured a vocalist, the original group now performs with
singing duties shared by all, much of it resting on Barrere’s
capable shoulders. Of course, he and Fred Tackett also have
another job to do, which is to faithfully honor classic songs
that are heavily dependent on and often dominated by elec-continued-
TONEQUEST REPORT V10. N9. July-August 2009
tric, slide and
acoustic guitar that
requires a considerable range of nimble
tones, nuances and
skill. Watching them
work up close is a
testament to all great
musicians as they
constantly remind us
of the elegant notion
of playing to serve
the song – not such an easy feat in Little Feat... Play guitar
in this band and you’ve got a busy night ahead of you. To
their credit, Little Feat also respects the music and their
audience enough to understand that what we want to hear
tonight is what we heard the first time – not some re-heated,
‘improved,’ or lame jam band version of “Fat Man in a
Bathtub...” Mess that up and you also stink up my memories
of The Three Blondes
from Wisconsin, Little
Howard’s wicked-good
red clay MDA, Kamikaze
shooters and the 14th
Street midnight water
ballet. You really can’t
improve this stuff, but
the 2009 edition of Little
Feat doesn’t mail it in,
either. Billy Payne’s brilliant talent on keyboards remains as vibrant and creative as
ever, Kenny Gradney and Sam Clayton expertly nail the pocket, and if we have ever seen or heard a better drummer than
Richie Hayward... well, we haven’t. The man is simply on it
every second from ‘hello’ to ‘goodbye’ with taste, drive,
power, finesse and style.
By now, Little Feat’s legacy in the history of rock & roll is a
matter of record. Their incomparable grasp of the groove
vividly remains in their recordings, while they continue to
serve up a rollicking good time on stage as if it were 1979
(minus disco). And so it is with great pleasure that we offer a
personal introduction to Paul Barrere – a laid back and
approachable soul with a wry and reverent appreciation for
all the colorful ups and downs that life in Little Feat has
afforded him. We couldn’t have asked for a better hang, and
now, it’s your hang, too. Enjoy...
I started playing the guitar when I was thirteen, raised in a
family that believed in music lessons, and I had two older
brothers, so my parents had us all taking piano lessons. Being
the youngest, I started when I was five and kept it up until I
was eleven, when I finally told my parents I was absolutely
sick and tired of practicing for an hour every day in the same
place and needed an
instrument I could take
up to my room. Strange
but true, I saw the Benny
Goodman story and here
he is playing his clarinet
on a fire escape, you
know... but clarinet was
not the instrument I
wanted. It took a few
years until I realized I
wanted to play the guitar. The way I came to that realization
was that my brother was having a party and a guy showed up
with a beautiful Gibson 3/4 acoustic and he was playing over
in the corner where all the girls were (laughing). So that was
it. I decided I had to get
a guitar, it turned out
that the guy at the party
was selling the Gibson,
and my parents bought it
for me. Fortunately, my
brothers were playing
rock & roll in the house,
Gabor Szabo
and the music the guy
had been playing at the party was all Jimmy Reed stuff –
“Got Me Runnin’,” “Baby What You Want Me To Do”... I
started learning all those songs – just teaching myself – and I
had a good ear from all those years of piano lessons. I never
learned how to actually read music, but I would have the
teacher play the piece and I would learn the chords and the
notes and play it for him the next week as if I were reading
the music. Then my parents had the brilliant idea of getting
me a guitar teacher. We lived in Hollywood at the time, and
the teacher lived in Silver Lake, which was kind of a cool
Bohemian area, and she talked me into selling the Gibson and
getting a really nice Candela Spanish guitar made by a
builder in Los Angeles whose instruments have become
very valuable. The guitar teacher went off to the Newport
Folk Festival one week and never came back, so I continued
teaching myself and got into Gabor Szabo. A good friend of
mine was Leroy Vinnegar – a very in-demand bassist in
L.A. who played with Les McCann, the Jazz Crusaders and
made records on his own. His stepson Mark played the
drums, and Lee Roy had a whole setup in the basement of
his house – a
Bandmaster amp,
an old Stratocaster
and a set of drums,
so Mark and I set
out to replicate the
songs from Chico
Hamilton’s Man
From Two Worlds.
Mississippi John Hurt
It went from that
TONEQUEST REPORT V10. N9. July-August 2009
to listening to heavier music – BB King and Albert King,
and I really got into Mississippi John Hurt. I absolutely
adored his folk/blues style, and I was bouncing around
between electric jazz/rock and acoustic folk/blues not really
knowing which direction to go.
Did you have it together enough to begin playing
out anywhere?
Oh, no (laughing). I don’t
think I played a show
until I was about 16. First
of all, stage fright was a
big problem. We eventually played a couple of
parties with that trio, then
we added a keyboard
player and played a few
more parties. By the time
I was 18 I had gotten an
ES175 and a Les Paul Junior and we put together a blues
band and wound up playing at a club called Bido Litos. That
club was famous because it’s where Love started playing a
lot, and the Doors, so it was quite a thrill to be playing there.
With two bitchin’ guitars, what amps were
you using?
Seemed like every
amp I had ever gotten I would always
blow up, and I
wound up buying a
Vox Super Beatle
from a surfer buddy
of mine. I didn’t
have a speaker cabinet, so I would
always get these little 1x12 cabinets and blow the speakers. I
finally found an old Bassman bottom – I didn’t blow that.
So now you’re getting your chops together in
Hollywood at the age of 18, playing at Bido Litos,
and Lowell George eventually enters the picture...
Yeah, I graduated high school after having to leave
Hollywood High and graduating from North Hollywood at
the request of the principal, and Lowell had gone to
Hollywood High with my older brothers. So he had known
me and listened to these garage bands I’d been in and I had
always gone to see him play either with the Mothers or the
Factory. I was asked to join the band of a songwriter named
Hank Shifter, who had a gig coming up at the Whiskey AGo-Go. He was managed by Johnny Rivers, who booked the
gig, and then found out
that only Hank was a
member of the musicians’ union. Johnny paid
all of our dues, which
was very nice. It was a
two-night stand at the
Whiskey, and Hank blew
out his voice on the first
night, so it was myself
and the bass player singing all the songs on the second night.
We quit that gig after the drummer was drafted, and I got a
job as a busboy at this restaurant called the Black Rabbit Inn
that had been started by a bunch of Hollywood musicians and
managerial types. I actually waited on Miles Davis when I
was there. It was like a hang... a hippy gourmet, non-vegetarian wild romp.
You were now attending the University of Rock...
Oh, yeah – absolutely. And
Hollywood at that time... I
remember watching the riots
on Sunset strip from a little
hillside in the canyon and
looking down at all those people just getting whacked by
the cops, and thinking,
“Those people are crazy!”
(laughing hard). This was
around 1969, and we formed
a band with a bunch of guys
at the restaurant and we’d
rehearse religiously, five days
a week, from like noon to five and then go off and work at the
restaurant hauling down $50 a night, which was good money
in ‘69. We were putting in the time for about two years and
we never played a gig. We lived at this guy’s house who was
going to produce the band – his big claim to fame was that he
produced the first Richard Pryor record. Around the third year
of this all going down, we’re just blasting away at these songs
and now we’ve got them down pat... The songs were like a
cross between Captain Beefheart and Led Zeppelin – the
lyrics were completely whacked and the music was very loud
and very raucous. There were two guitars players, drums and
harmonica, and the other guitarist was playing a solidbody
National tuned down to C sharp – a very low tone.
And this was Led Enema...
That’s right. One day we get a knock on the door and it’s this
guy, Earl McGrath, who had been an assistant to Ahmet
Ertegun. Earl lived about four doors down in Laurel Canyon
and he was... (laughing) he was doing EST at the time. This
TONEQUEST REPORT V10. N9. July-August 2009
is the ultimate
Hollywood story
(laughing). I love it.
“I’m doing my EST and
I’m in my closet four
hours a day screaming
and all I can hear is
you guys jamming. But
Ahmet Ertegun
you sound pretty
good... Can I bring Ahmet up?” Well, sure. The next day
Ahmet Ertegun is sitting in the basement of this band house
in the lower Canyon and he says, “You guys are pretty good.
What’s the name of the band?” Led Enema... “Well, we’ll
have to change that...” So he offers us this deal, and for some
reason the powers that be in the band, which were basically
the harmonica player who sang and the producer say, “No,
we don’t want to do that – it will compromise our artistic
integrity.” So we’re back drudging off to work at this f’ing
restaurant smelling like grease, and then Lowell shows up...
He’s got a bass in his hand and he says, “I want you to audition for this band I’m putting
together.” I said, “Cool... I
don’t play the bass.” “Well,
it’s two less strings...” So I
go down to Echo Park and
audition for this band. I’d
already known Richie, and
that’s where I met Billy
Payne, but I failed miserably
at my bass audition to say the
least. I think the thing that got
me was a chart for a song
called “The Dance of the
Nubile Virgin’s Legs” with a lot of time and key signature
changes scrawled on a scrap of paper. So I said if you ever
need a second guitarist, give me a call. In ‘72 when Sailin’
Shoes was released and Roy Estrada decided to join Captain
Beefheart, they decided to expand the band and once again,
Lowell did it like the older brother would do it... “OK, here’s
the record, man... If you can learn the record you can be in
the band.”
How long had Sailin’ Shoes been out?
Not long – a month or two, and that was when Sam Clayton
and Kenny Gradney came over from Delaney and Bonnie. As
soon as we learned the songs we were on the road to promote
the record, but of course, by that time the record had died and
Lowell began thinking about going back in the studio. That’s
when we recorded Dixie Chicken.
Did you need to scrape some gear together once
you were in Little Feat?
Well, I already had a Stratocaster at that point, and I had a
blackface Bassman head and a Dual Showman bottom.
TQR: Were you using effects at all?
I was running straight through, just
cranking it at that point. Then
Lowell started introducing me to
pedals. What I used for recording
was what I used in the garage and
the basement in Laurel Canyon and
on every record since – a ‘57
tweed Vibrolux.
So you hit the road to support Sailin’ Shoes, and
then come back off the road and go straight into the
studio to record Dixie Chicken... Can you describe
how that album was recorded in terms of equipment
and recording techniques?
There weren’t tons of
overdubs... Lowell
would be in the booth
with the engineer and
basically have the five
of us go in and play
the songs. And we
rehearsed pretty extensively before we went
in. We were with
Warner Brothers, and they had access to all those studio sets
right next door, so at one point we were rehearsing on the
Camelot stage, which was pretty interesting. We recorded at
Clover Recording down on Santa Monica Boulevard and it really went pretty smooth. The one thing I really remember being
extra special is when we recorded “On Your Way Down” with
my Vibrolux, Lowell thought it would be cool to tie it in with a
Leslie cabinet... And the solo was absolutely live, as was the
solo I play on “Dixie Chicken.” It was amazing that we actually
got so much done on the basic tracks. Lowell was really the
only one who would go in and overdub his guitars.
What guitars were you playing?
Strats, and I had two MusicMan guitars – one was a Sabre
-continuedTONEQUEST REPORT V10. N9. July-August 2009
and I can’t remember what the other one was. Right about the
time we released Dixie Chicken, Leo Fender had started
MusicMan and Lowell and I went down to Anaheim and he
gave us a few guitars and quite a few amps. We weren’t real
crazy about the guitars, but since we were endorsing them,
we felt like we should play them.
play through that. I loved the combination of a Bassman head
with the Showman 2x15 cabinet live – it made the
Stratocaster sound fatter. Back then and even now I didn’t
know the difference between a single coil pickup and a humbucker. Just give me a guitar and I’ll play it.
Were you also moving in the same circles with
Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt and David
Lindley in L.A.?
I kind of stayed in the
background... sort of
like the second guitarist in the band.
Lowell was the main
focus, as well it
should be, because he
was such an amazing
talent. He was truly
my mentor... the one
that got me to play
more than 3-chord blues. It was a great transformation. The first
three to four years with Little Feat was an amazing education
for me working with Billy and Lowell. As my confidence and
my chops grew, I started getting out a little more – I knew
Jackson and we would hang out a little bit. We had a couple of
different places we rented that were like storefronts, and we
eventually took over Jackson’s place when he built his studio in
Santa Monica. Between the Warner Brothers stable, if you will,
with Emmy Lou and Bonnie, Ry Cooder... there was a lot of
interplay. Billy got called in for a lot of sessions, and Richie,
and occasionally I would get a call for something like a
Nicolette Larsen record. So there was a real good comraderie
there. Quite frankly, if I had been a little sharper I would have
used it more to my advantage (laughing). But you have to
remember it was the ‘60s and I was coming out of a band called
Led Enema... there were certain aspects of my life back then
that were not so healthy (laughing).
Did you ever run across Dumble?
Oh yeah. Howard was uh... well, now he’s Alexander, but I’ll
call him Howard since that’s how I knew him. Lowell had
one of his amps, and Howard basically worked out of a little
rehearsal studio called The Alley. His stuff really took off,
but I was never
really a big
gear head – just
give me a
Stratocaster, I
loved my
Vibrolux in the
studio – I’ll
You used a certain effect with great effect on Dixie
Yeah, the Maestro
Phase Shifter – I
wish I could find
one, because that
was a big part of
my sound. Having
worked with Van
Dyke Parks, who
worked with Ry,
Maestro Phase Shifter
Lowell was really
good with effects. His big thing was using two of those big
Lexicon 1176 compressors – one pushing the signal and the
other squeezing it. When you’re not playing, they are noisy as
hell, but when you are playing, the sustain is amazing, and
it’s a real crystalline sound. It sustains forever. He would put
that on my guitar sometimes in the mix as well.
What kind of amps was Lowell using?
After we got rid
of the Music Man
stuff he was playing the Dumble
with a few
Marshall cabinets. Since he
couldn’t carry a
couple of
Lexicons around,
George Massenburg made him a little compressor box and he
got an MXR Dynacomp as the second compressor. Boy, that
thing used to hiss like crazy.
Well, living in Atlanta in the late ‘70s, the two
hottest bands that got the most play in the
Buckhead bars were Little Feat and Mother’s
Finest. When you threw that vinyl on a turntable
the party would instantly intensify. Women danced
on bars, clothing would come off, and strangers
became soul mates for an hour or two. I can’t tell
you how many times that music transformed the
vibe in a club to something strangely erotic, earthy
and magical.
I can’t even remember how many times we played Richard’s
TONEQUEST REPORT V10. N9. July-August 2009
in Atlanta with Mother’s Finest opening for us. That was a
great band.
You broke up again after Dixie Chicken. Why?
Well, strangely enough,
when we were in Atlanta
promoting the record for
the first time, the promo
people thought it would
be great if we went
around to the radio stations with these little
Kentucky Fried Chicken
boxes made up, but
instead of a picture of
the Colonel on the box they had the lady on them and instead
of ‘finger lickin’ good,’ the box read ‘finger pickin’ good.’
They filled the boxes full of chicken and they dressed us up as
busboys and put Lowell in a chicken suit. He wouldn’t wear
the chicken hat, so I did. Somewhere there is a picture of
that... Anyway, we went around to all these radio stations with
the chicken and then Lowell found out that there weren’t any
records in the stores. When he got back to L.A. he went down
to Warner Brothers and just flipped out. “You demean us like
that and then people aren’t able to actually buy the record?
What kind of bullshit is that?” He got disheartened with the
record industry as usual and he just broke up the band. At this
point there was talk of Lowell, Billy and possibly Richie starting a supergroup with John Sebastian and one of the Everly
brothers – which one I can’t remember, but they decided not
to do that. Lowell got word from our managers that one of
their old clients was the Lovin’ Spoonful and their bass player
had this studio in Hunt Valley, Maryland outside of Baltimore.
They had this up-and-coming engineer there named George
Massenburg, so why don’t we go out there and make a
record? We moved to Maryland for three months to make
Feats Don’t Fail Me Now, which was kind of a literal title at
that point, and we played a lot of community colleges in the
area while we were there.
You probably ran into Roy Buchanan once or
Roy Buchanan
Oh, yeah. He would
come up to the studio and
hang out with Lowell,
because Lowell would be
sitting in there when the
sessions were over
tweaking... and tweaking.
And tweaking... (big,
knowing laugh). But we
got to do a whole lot of
stuff while we there. The studio was $5,000 a month, blocked
out. Robert Palmer came in and we recorded a lot of the
tracks for Pressure Drop, Lowell produced the Seldom Seen
record there, which is how we met Emmy Lou... It was a good
Now, did your choice of gear change or evolve during this time?
I did like the
Music Man amps,
and I was using
their basic Twin...
what is it, the
Sixty Five? That’s
the only one I’ve
still got, and then
I got turned on to
the 210 HD and
I’d bypass the speakers into a 4x12 Marshall cabinet.
Little Feat has never come across a an extremely
loud band... It’s more of a carefully crafted ensemble that can definitely boogie. Was that part of
the original vision, or more of a happy accident?
I think it was more of
a happy accident. We
were never loud on
stage. We were
always very much
into sustain, but we
got that with the compressors, and there are
ways to get distortion
at lower volumes.
Today I use an Ibanez
CP-10 compressor.
It’s easier playing live today because of the technology, but
also for having done it for so long – maturation, and more
about not leaving stones in your path. We’ll play anything
from a 200-seat club to much larger venues, so I carry two
different speaker setups. I have two little 1x12 JBL cabinets
that I use in smaller places, and I’ve been using a Rivera 120
Stereo amp forever that has the best chorus sound I’ve ever
heard. I’ve got two, and I’ve been playing them since 1992.
Are they still making them?
They just reissued ten I think, in a limited edition. So I carry the
two JBL 1x12 cabinets for smaller gigs and on the bigger stages
I carry a Marshall cab with old Vintage 30s wired stereo. I also
use a couple of overdrives – one is a standard Boss Blues Driver,
and the other is something called a Diabolic Gristle Tone
TONEQUEST REPORT V10. N9. July-August 2009
Manipulator. Greg Koch turned me on to that.
The last mod I did of
real significance was
after Lowell passed
away – in ‘80 or ‘81. I
had met this gentleman
named Randy Cobb
that worked for
Seymour Duncan back
when he was working
out of a garage in Santa
Barbara, and he told me
to bring my guitars and he would re-wind the pickups. So I
went up there and we took the original pickups out of the
guitars, took the old wire off and he found the biggest wire
he could use and just let it go – didn’t count the number of
turns or anything, and both guitars sounded great. For a long
time I would use one guitar in G and the other in A.
You’re a Stratocaster player for the most part, and
sometimes Strat pickups need some help.
They do, absolutely. Especially when you want some growl. I
can’t remember the names of any of the distortion pedals I
used way back in the day other than a Fuzz Face. I remember
when Little Feat broke up, I got a Boss distortion pedal, and I
did play around with a Roland tap delay.
You also adopted Lowell’s fondness for Sears
Craftsman sockets for slide.
Yeah, the 5/8 socket. I had been playing slide prior to Little
Feat, but I always used glass. They would get broken, of
course, and one day Lowell handed me one of his Sears sockets and said, “If you break this, Sears will replace it.” I’ve
used them ever since.
Your main guitars were a ‘69 and a ‘72 Strat. Do
you still have them?
Yeah, I still have them and the ‘69
just got retired – I won’t take that
one out anymore. The ‘72 will soon
follow – they both sound great, but
they’re getting too valuable to risk
taking them out anymore on the
road. When Fender found out that
Little Feat was getting back together,
they came down to the rehearsals for
Let It Roll and gave Fred and I each
a guitar, and I got this teal Strat Plus.
It’s like the most amazing Strat Plus
I’ve ever had. I’ve bought two or
three of them since and none of them
have sounded as good.
Any idea why?
I don’t know... I got no idea. The teal Strat has been my main
guitar since 1987, and a sunburst I have is converted over to
open G tuning. It sounds pretty decent... not quite as fat as
the ‘69 or ‘72, but those guitars have been bastardized several
In what way?
What are some of the most memorable shows
you’ve ever played, Paul?
One of the best was
opening for the
Doobie Brothers at
an afternoon show at
the Rainbow Theater
in London. We had
such anticipation
about being in
London for the first
time and we were
like the darlings of
the British press
because we were so different from any other American rock
& roll band. There had been quotes from people like Mick
Jagger calling us their favorite band. You would not have
wanted to follow us on stage at that show... we were hot, but
believe me, a couple of times we went back over there and
they lambasted us. The press can be fickle. There were a couple of shows we played with the Who – one in Anaheim
Stadium that was my first exposure to playing in front of
something like 70,000 people, and opening for the Stones in
Stuttgart was quite memorable... More recently, in ‘89 we did
a two night run at the Pantages Theater. We were really on
during those shows and Bonnie and Eric Clapton sat in with
us. That was a great way to come back with Let It Roll.
How about favorite recordings?
Most recently, Little Feat Kickin’ It at the Barn. We did it up
at Fred Tackett’s barn – it’s not really a barn... more like a
chicken coop that we converted (laughing). We went up there
TONEQUEST REPORT V10. N9. July-August 2009
to record and we just
played. Most of the
soloing was all captured live and it was
just a real comfortable vibe. I’ve loved
just about every
record we’ve ever
made other than
Down On the Farm,
Fred Tackett when there was a lot
of contention, we were breaking up, and Lowell went out on
the road soon after and passed away. That’s the toughest one
to recall, but there were parts of those sessions before all the
craziness started that were just fantastic. We were recording
the actual song “Down On the Farm” at Lowell’s house, and I
remember Lowell in the backyard yelling at the frogs to Shut
up! Shut up!
Micing the back of the amp is good, though. Like
an open back cabinet, it can add a lot of ambience.
It does. And you too can hear what the drummer hears on
stage (laughing).
How about acoustic guitars?
I have a deal with Epiphone and I use an Epiphone and a
Gibson on stage. When I’m recording I have a ‘71 Martin
D28 and a D35 12-string I’ve been using a lot, and I picked
up another Martin with a single cutaway back in ‘83, but I’m
sorry I don’t recall the model number.
Do you do anything unique with things like mic
placement when you record?
I kinda leave it to the engineer. There is a very interesting two-theory method
of recording guitar amps in
a room – one is to place
one mic really close and
another in the back of the
amp. I’ve been working
with a guy who will place
multiple mics all around the
room with one in the front
and one in back. The only
problem with that is that
you have so many different signals that you have to choose
which ones to use.
Well, I have to say
that “All That You
Dream” means a lot
to me in many
respects. It was written about my relationship with Bonnie
Raitt years and years
ago, and even though
I loved the Little
Feat arrangement, it
wasn’t truly representative of the way I wrote it. When Fred
and I do it now acoustically we slow it down quite a bit and
focus on the lyrics more.
From the entire Feats catalog, are there any songs
in particular that really turn you on?
You mentioned how Lowell was such a mentor and
major influence for you, yet you never seemed to
be operating as the ‘second guitarist.’ You hit the
ground running, and let’s not forget... when Lowell
was singing, he usually wasn’t playing.
I was ready to go, and that’s why he hired me, because it was
so hard for him to play and sing at the same time. He once
told me, “Frank Sinatra doesn’t play anything when he
Lowell left before there was ever much written
about him. What was he like both as a human
being and a bandmate?
He was very enigmatic, really.
He could be the most loving,
giving person in the world, and
then he could be the complete
opposite. He was so talented...
he didn’t demand respect, but
you gave it out of respect.
Here’s a funny story... when we
were recording Dixie Chicken
he started chasing me around
the studio with one of those big
fire extinguishers with the powder in it, right? Well, he cornered me in the control room and said, “I’ve got you now,
don’t I?” and fired it off. He missed me, but he managed to
hit all the faders on the mixing board. He was very interesting in the fact that he was the first guy I ever knew who
would edit cassette tapes without really knowing what he was
doing. When we did “Rock & Roll Doctor” he would sit and
record these little grooves on cassettes and tinker with it, and
he gave Billy this edited cassette of “Rock & Roll Doctor,”
which is why it’s so quirky... There are a couple of measures
in there that would break your legs if you tried to dance to it.
Lowell said to Billy, “Normalize this.” Billy really did most
TONEQUEST REPORT V10. N9. July-August 2009
of the arrangements when we were learning the songs, so
Lowell would work that way, and other times he would just
come in and play the song, like “Long Distance Love” or
“Two Trains.” “Dixie Chicken” was really built, where Billy
came up with the little keyboard riff.
deal on something like December 1 for a million dollars,
right? Everybody in the band gets $100,000 and of course, on
January 1 we all got stuck with a taxable windfall of
$100,000 (laughing). We were so stupid. So yeah, we made
some money – that’s when everybody bought a house.
That’s an interesting observation, because when
you think about it, what Little Feat song doesn’t
have a signature, melodic hook that’s played on the
Yeah, a little signature lick. Billy, myself and Lowell would
all contribute to that.
TQR: As much of a
smash Dixie Chicken was
here in the South, it wasn’t that big a success
nationally was it?
No, at the time it sold
about 40,000 records, but
the follow up, Feats
Don’t Fail Me Now was
about 200,000, which was
pretty good, and the older
catalog started selling
well after that. They have
all gone gold by now, of course.
How did you record this year’s Join the Band with
so many guests like Bob Seger, Vince Gill, Sonny
Landreth, Emmy Lou and Bela Fleck, among oth
We went down to Jimmy Buffett’s studio in Key West and
recorded 22 basic tracks, and then there were other sessions in
Muscle Shoals and Nashville with Billy and Mac McAnally
producing. I’m sure all the lawyers got rich (laughing).
Since you mentioned it, did you guys ever make
any money when you were peaking, or did it all get
skimmed off as it did for so many others?
It was a very interesting situation... Right after Waiting
for Columbus we re-upped
with Warner Brothers and we
called it The Big Deal.
Warner Brothers even had
boxing robes made up with
“The Big Deal” on the back.
We were playing a show at
the Forum and we signed the
What unfinished business is left for you, Paul?
I want to just keep creating
music, and recently I have
been doing some things I
swore I would never do, but
I’m doing them anyway... I’m
trying to work my catalog for
commercials. “All That You
Dream” was used in The
Sopranos, right? And it is up
for another show in May, and
when I got the letter for “All
That You Dream” I asked my
publisher who I should talk to
about pitching songs for commercials? I have this idea for
using “Old Folks Boogie” for a Viagra commercial... “Off our
rockers acting crazy and with the right medication we won’t
be lazy... You know you’re over the hill when you mind makes
a promise your body can’t fill.” And they air these commercials right in the middle of the dinner hour so your 11 year
old daughter can start asking you questions about erectile disfunction. Crazy (laughing). So I’m working the catalog, writing songs and playing music. We’ve all been hit with this
economic downturn, but we’ll be back out on the road touring this summer and the Fall is filling up. We figured out that
for the past twelve years we’ve averaged 120 shows a year,
and we’ll probably do about 80 this year. Life is good. TQ
Dixie Chicken
It’s August. It’s hot. This is hotter. Please receive this gift
with grace, and do not e-mail your host bitchin’ about a
recipe being printed in the ToneQuest. Just make the damn
chicken! It’s killer on pig meat or grouper, too. A man that
can’t cook is no man at all, so stock your spice cabinet and
get on with it, baby. Eat good, play good...
Dixie Chicken — Seasoning Paste
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2-3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon onion powder
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon fresh grated
ginger root
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon grated lime peel
TONEQUEST REPORT V10. N9. July-August 2009
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
1 1/2 teaspoons white pepper
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/4 teaspoons nutmeg
1 1/4 teaspoons savory
3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
2-4 diced fresh scotch bonnet or habanero chile peppers, seeded
4 bay leaves
3-4 pounds of chicken
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 bottle of beer
Combine all of the seasoning paste ingredients in a large bowl
and rub the paste all over the chicken real good, like Kama Sutra
oil. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 8 hours. While
you’re gettin’ your grill going, put the chicken out and bring it
back to room temperature. Melt the butter. Gently scrape the seasoning paste off the chicken pieces with a large spoon and stir it
into the butter and beer. Grill the chicken and baste with the butter/beer mixture often as the chicken cooks, covered, over indirect
heat (move yer coals to one side and the chicken on the other).
Venus Envy… The Rivera Venus 3
Paul Barrere’s early ‘90s Rivera Stereo 120 was recently
reissued in a limited run of twelve amps, and of course, they
are long
We contacted
Jr., however, and
he sent us a Venus 3 1x12 combo with reverb and many of the
trademark features that are unique to Paul Rivera’s outstanding designs. Our review follows...
The Rivera Venus Series includes three models available as a
head or combo – the dual 6V6 Venus 3, dual 6L6 Venus 5,
and four-6V6 Venus 6. The 15 watt Venus 3 is available as a
1x10 or 1x12 combo, and our 1x12 review model was
equipped with a Celestion G12H 30 speaker, excellent
Electro-Harmonix 6V6s, and Sovtek 12AX7s.
Rivera amps are known for their exceptionally solid construction, and while the Venus 3 is modestly powered at 15 watts,
it sounds much bigger due to the 11x20x19 cabinet dimensions coupled with our favorite Celestion 12. Front panel
controls are straightforward with a couple of nifty twists –
Volume with pull
boost, Bass,
Middle with pull
Mid Notch, Treble,
Master Volume,
Reverb and
Presence. A
rocker switch on
the back panel
takes the amp
down to 7 watts in
the ‘Vintage’ position. Additional features include dual speaker outs in parallel, Line Out, Power Amp Out and Preamp In
The Venus 3 develops moderately loud, lush clean tones in
the full-power 15 watt ‘Modern’ setting, further enhanced
by an Accutronics 3-spring reverb pan that sounds slightly
shallower than the longer pans you may be familiar with in
bigger vintage blackface Fender amps, but still far superior
to most contemporary amps equipped with short pans. Set
clean, the Venus is suitable for practice, recording and perhaps a small ensemble in an intimate setting, but it won’t
hang with
a full
band, nor
was it
Tug on the
Volume Boost, however, and the Venus catches fire, delivering a polyphonic gusher of exceptionally musical, variable levels of distortion that can be precisely shaped in
thickness and intensity by mixing the Volume and Master
Volume control levels. Lots of amps can be pushed into
heavy distortion, but no other modern 1x12 combo we’ve
heard does so with the grace and elegance of the Venus 3.
Yes, it’s a thoroughly ass-kickin combo fully capable of
out-muscling a vintage blackface Deluxe Reverb (you’d
need a boost pedal to get close), but you’re also rewarded
with a long, wet kiss. For moderate breakup and vivid
chime, we left the pull boost volume feature in (off) and
just cranked both the Volume and Master to around 1
o’clock – perfect for crunchy, single coil rhythms. With the
boost engaged, the Venus steadily blooms with the Master
Volume level adding increasingly thick, rich ballast at higher settings – the kind of heavy output tube distortion that
works well with so many different types of pickups and
guitars. Lowering the Master level and increasing the
Volume boost adds rapidly escalating levels of gain and
intensity that become progressively thinner and more linear
TONEQUEST REPORT V10. N9. July-August 2009
as the
control is
set above
For middy
and jangly
Liverpool moments, enter Riveras’s Mid Boost push/pull
Notch. What you get here is an instant trip into classic
British mid tones with plenty of room for variable emphasis and intensity throughout the sweep of the Midrange pot.
Ram a typical humbucking guitar through the mid notch
and you get some fascinating and very usable linear single
coil tones that contrast nicely with the fuller, rounder sound
of the amp with the Notch off. This kind of practical versatility and voicing was the hallmark of Paul Rivera’s work
with Fender in the ‘80s, when he and the design team at
Fender resurrected the company’s amplifier business from
the lingering hangover of the late ‘70s with the development of the Concert Series and many other designs.
Compression used as an effect for guitar may be the most
over-looked and misunderstood tool within the essential bag
of tricks available to guitarists. Many players seem to consider compression pedals the exclusive domain of chicken
pickin’ country boys like Red Volkaert or the late and great
Jerry Reed... Granted, compression is very useful for enhancing note separation and controlling the strength of pick
attack, decay and sustain for speedy staccato passages, but it
was also used with great effect on all the early Little Feat
recordings to put a finer point on Lowell George’s slide playing, adding clarity and a pristine tonal quality that simply
helped his Strat sit proudly in the mix with sustain that was
not dependent on raw volume. Paul Barrere also uses compression for the same effect. Another contemporary player
who has used compression effectively is Sonny Landreth. He’s
not squeezing his tone into a small, pinched and nasally
sound at all, but gently adding just enough compression to,
again, enhance clarity, sustain and pick attack.
Mike Piera
(Analogman) has been
building his Comprosser
for years, but he hasn’t
been complacent in
assuming that the original version was the end
of the road... We asked
him to provide a concise
overview on the history
of the most popular
compression pedals and
the Comprosser, and our
So what is the
true intention
of the Venus 3?
The clean tones
are very nice, if
a little shy in
the style of a
Deluxe, but
your world will
change dramatically with this
amp opened up. It really does sound like a big, powerful,
beautiful beast unleashed, again due to the circuit design and
features, and the boxy cabinet that works so well as a tone
chamber. The 6V6 power tubes make an utterly beautiful
sounding rock and blues amp (yes, that’s two ‘beautiful’s for
emphasis) with a much bigger soundstage than typical EL84
combos (we’ve said that more than once as well). Rivera’s
EQ controls enabling you to precisely tweak the amp for a
variety of guitars, and the range of slight-to-intense overdriven voices is extraordinarily pleasing, musical and inspiring.
The Venus 3 is simply a rollicking, fun amp to play, and best
of all... it’s built with pride in America with a printed circuit
board! Yup, we’re nudging you to consider a $1500 Class A,
pc board amp. For those about to rock unencumbered by the
misguided cork sniffer’s aversion to progress and consistency,
we salute you. You’ll thank us later. TQ
“There are a few compressor pedals that became very popular
and still stand the test of time. The first was probably the
MXR Dynacomp, which came out in about 1974. It was
based on a CA3080 Operational Transconductance Amplifier
IC chip. This is basically a fast electronically controlled
amplifier which could be used to change the volume of a signal based on certain parameters. A compressor is basically an
automated volume control with specific attack and release
characteristics, so this chip has found wide use in audio circuits for compression. The Dynacomp was used by many
rock and country artists, and many are still using their old
script logo Dynas. Dunlop reproduced this pedal exactly in
‘09 and they are quite excellent, unlike the previous Dunlop
made MXR Dynacomps., 818-767-4600
Ross tended to copy MXR with some improvements, and that
review of the latest version follows.
TONEQUEST REPORT V10. N9. July-August 2009
is exactly what the gray Ross compressor does. It came out in the late
1970s. It’s a little more steady and
warmer than the Dynacomp, but
most of the characteristics are the
same, as the basic circuit is intact,
with added stabilization.
The Boss CS-1 came out in about
1980 and also found popularity with
many guitarists. It does not use a
special compressor type chip, but
works similarly. It also had a Normal/ Treble switch which was
very useful. They made a lot more of the later CS2 so you will
see them more often, but a few people still swear by the CS-1.
These pedals are often used as
an effect, not like a studio compressor, which is usually used in
a subtle manner. There were a
few studio style compressor
stompboxes, like the Retrospec
Squeeze Box. This was a tubebased compressor pedal that
worked like the rack mount studio compressors, and it is still
popular as a front end for guitars and bass players for recording
or live. Unfortunately, he stopped building them years ago.
There are other similar style compressors on the market now,
and they are generally called ‘opto’ compressors as they use
opto-couplers to control the gain, and are not as much of an
effect as the old Dynacomp types.
Back in the late ‘90s, Phish was
very popular and people were
looking for the old Ross compressors that Trey Anastasio used. We
found the schematic and compared it to the Dynacomp, and I
saw that it would not be hard to
modify the Dynacomp to the old
Ross specs. So I started modifying new Dunlop Dynacomps to
Ross specs and there was quite an
improvement, largely due to the matched and selected transistors we used. Ross did, in fact, use selected low-noise transistors in two parts of the circuit, as seen on the schematic and
the pedals (X on the tops of the select transistors).
After a while, we decided we should make the pedals from
scratch as the jacks, switch, and pots on the Dynacomps were
attached to the board and not of very high quality, making
repairs difficult. We finally released our Comprosser in 2000,
and it was the only Ross clone on the market. Way Huge had
made the Saffron Squeeze a few years earlier, but I thought it
was a Dan Armstrong Orange Squeezer clone until Jeorge
corrected me on a mistake on my website and I realized his
was the first Ross clone, with a few tweaks.
We have been tweaking the Comprossor since it came out in
2000, first by adding the Attack knob, based on some of the
Japanese compressors. We also added the Orange Squeezer to
the board to make our Bicomp – two different and complimentary compressor pedals in one box.
Our latest version has more
clarity of the original note
and stability. Jim Weider
showed me how great his old
script logo Dynacomp sounded. I didn’t think it could beat
our comp, but it did have
more clarity. So I modified
his existing Comprossor with
the metal can chip and our
latest specs, and it’s sounding
great now too. Our latest specs include ideas from the Way
Huge Saffron Squeeze (stability) and a Japanese boutique
compressor (capacitor type) along with the script logo
Dynacomp (chip). The trick is that you have to know what to
steal – only the good stuff! I remember hearing that phrase
back in the ‘70s, when Datsun came out with the 240Z and
kicked the British sports cars in the ass. I have made a few of
these comps with the special metal can IC chip in addition to
our other new specs. Buddy Miller got his old bicomp
upgraded to those specs recently, and Bill Hullett and Jerry
McPherson have been using our comps in Nashville too. But
the metal can chips are very expensive and hard to find, so
it’s available as a special request option. We’ll throw it in free
for any ToneQuest readers though.”
If you’ve been reading TQR for long, you may have noticed
that we haven’t found a pedal from Analogman we didn’t like
– from the germanium-goosed Sun Face fuzz pictured here on
Doyle Bramhall’s pedalboard (along with an RC Booster and
Landgraff Dynamic Overdrive), to the Beano Boost treble
boost in our rig, and the early ‘90s Japan-made Boss DD3
TONEQUEST REPORT V10. N9. July-August 2009
delay modified by Mike
Piera. We had previously
discussed the Analogman
Bi-Comprosser way back in
2001, which became a
favorite of the late Stephen
Bruton as a result of our
article. Today’s Comprosser
has been enhanced with the
Attack control, which provides complete control over
the strength of pick attack and how the notes develop –
essentially hard or soft. The Sustain control gives you the
precise ability to control and modify a broad range of decay
times, and the Volume control pushes the signal to progressively stronger, louder levels that can also act as an overdrive,
while also gradually emphasizing your attack and sustain settings. So, we need to think of compression as it functions in
the Comprosser not as an effect that abruptly squeezes the
signal, altering attack and chopping off sustain... The
Comprosser functions more as a very high-fidelity (true to
your original signal), warm and musical boost while controlling levels of sustain and the character of pick attack. It’s not
surprising that slide players especially appreciate the ability
to enhance sustain and smooth the overall signal, but these
features are also very useful in introducing a seductively
smooth character to rhythm parts and solos.
Unlike the old Dynacomps and MXR pedals, you won’t be
fighting noise, worn out jacks or any of the other anomalies
that time can introduce in ‘vintage’ pedals. With the
Comprosser, the overall sound and functional features are as
good as it gets, and yes, ToneQuest readers will exclusively
receive Comprossers with the expensive ‘metal can chip’
included at no charge. TQ, [email protected]
The King of Ponce
Gives it Up on Amp Mods
Today more than ever, the wise tonefreak will take a long look
at his amp stash and carefully consider the untapped potential lurking within. Simple modifications to a good amp can
yield a truly great one – you need only consider the possibilities rather than assuming you may have already squeezed
every ounce of tone from your amps, and we gladly offer our
own recent experience as an example. Jeff Bakos is one of the
most accomplished amp techs we know, a bass player with
years of experience working the Atlanta blues and rock scene,
and a remarkably talented recording engineer, having recorded much of Sean Costello’s catalog, Jason and the Scorchers,
Delta Moon, and
others. You’re getting the complete
amp mod brain
dump from Jeff in
this issue, so pay
In the fall of 2006
we scored a 1958
Tremolux, which
was eventually featured in the July 2007 of TQR. Since the
cabinet had been stripped nekkid of all tweed remnants and
the output transformer had been replaced, we paid just
$1,082.00 for it. The circuit remained virginal and in fine
shape right down to the little piece of tape on the chassis
signed by ‘Lilly,’ and we had high hopes for our new old
beater. We sent the cabinet off to Greg Hopkins at Vintage
Amp Restoration for
an aged recover,
replaced the
replacement OT
with a Mercury
Tone Clone, and
when we finally got
the Tremolux back
together, it did not
disappoint. A perfect 17 watts of
tweedy good thang and intoxicating tremolo, the Tremolux
has pleased us mightily ever since. Then just last week
Riverhorse blew into town for thirty eight hours and back-toback shows featuring the Arc Angels and Little Feat, and during a moment of calm on Saturday afternoon, he broke out
two boxes containing a pair of NOS
late ‘50s Tung-Sol
5881s. Pondering
a suitable destination for the TungSols, our gaze fell
upon the Tremolux, which had been churning along quite
nicely for two years on an old pair of stellar RCA 6V6 blackplates, a big-ass RCA 5U4 rectifier and an Amperex 12AX7
in the G spot. Then our thoughts turned to Neil Young, and
how his tech Larry Cragg had reminded us that Neil’s thunderbox Deluxe was biased for 6L6s. Solidly treading in ‘what
if?’ mode, we took the Tremolux and the Tung-Sols down to
Jeff Bakos’ shop on Monday afternoon for the installation of
a bias pot, which would enable us to experience the full girth
of the Tung-Sols biased up in the Tremolux. And why not?
With barely twenty minutes on the bench, the bias pot and
resistor had been added (another essential ‘mod’ on amps
that don’t have them), and we were ready to play out our
TONEQUEST REPORT V10. N9. July-August 2009
hunch. Once again, we
were not disappointed...
As gloriously rich and
responsive as the
Tremolux had always
sounded, the Tung-Sols
launched it into full
bloom, with a bolder,
richer voice, clearer
when pushed into distortion, if not really
cleaner (the Tung-Sols are notorious rough boys in a good
way). This simple modification created a doubling effect in
which all the tonal qualities and dynamic responsiveness of
the amp seemed to have been multiplied incrementally, creating a qualitative change in sound that would be otherwise
unimaginable from such a moderately powered tweed 1x12.
And there ya go... Were it not for the burning desire to insert
those hot Tungs in
something sweet
and willing, who
knows when we
would have considered juicing the
Tremolux? Well, the
jelly juice is flowing now, and there
will be no turning back, although should we ever wish to dial
it back down with 6V6s, we can do so in a snap. Nice mod.
Damn near life-changing, actually, having transformed the
Trim-o-lux into a bigger, better version of its former glory. If
you heard it, you wouldn’t believe just how glorious it
sounds. Game over. Now on to Mr. Bakos, otherwise known
as the King of Ponce, as he runs down some of his favorite
tone-enhancing mods. Enjoy...
cabinet with a bigger speaker than the one installed in your
combo amp, you’ll need to have a new baffleboard cut that
can be swapped for the original. These days it’s easy to order
a new baffleboard for most vintage Fender amps complete
with the proper grill cloth pre-installed direct from Mojo
Musical Supply (, and you can always
switch back to the original.
The Number One, all-time classic ‘mod’ is to merely change
the original speakers in your amp. Everything you, your guitar, and your amp are creating is ultimately experienced
through the speakers. I like to install the Celestion G12H30
70th Anniversary (Avatar Hellatone 30) in 12" applications,
and one of my all-time favorite 10-inch speakers is the
Eminence Legend
102 Alnico.
Disconnecting the negative feedback in a Fender amp brings
the gain and midrange way up into a very mean, aggressive
sound. You can disconnect it, or add a in/out switch to turn a
Fender into a meat-eating chainsaw with full Fender fidelity.
‘50s Tremolux with 15” speaker
You can also acquire
new tones from your
amp by changing the
size of the speaker –
like moving up from
a 10" to a 12" or from
a 12" to a 15". Unless
you’re planning on
using an extension
Pulling the two middle power tubes in a Fender Twin or a
100W Marshall have to be among the top two ‘mods’ in
terms of effective simplicity for reducing power to manage-
able levels without sacrificing tone. Some people even think
these amps sound better with just two power tubes (or they
sound better than a comparable 50 watt). On a Marshall you
need to set the impedance at 8 ohms when running just two
power tubes. A Twin has no impedance selector, but it can
easily handle the 50% mismatch running at 2 ohms with two
8 ohm speakers in parallel at 4 ohms.
Pulling V1 (first tube on the far right facing the back of the
amp) in a 2-channel Fender amp for more gain in the Vibrato
channel is also very effective, since most people don’t use the
Normal Channel (but Stevie did, always shooting for the
cleanest tone possible).
The ‘Marshall mod’ for Fender amps usually refers to
Blackface 2-channel Fender amps – you split the cathodes
apart, change a couple of values and do some minor re-wiring
to convert the Normal Channel to more of a ‘Marshall tone.’
SRV’s ‘64 Vibroverb
socket adapters will take a 50 watt dual 6L6 amp down to
about 16 watts with dual EL84s. I’ve recorded a guy using a
Soldano that was running with these adapters and it sounded
pretty good, although I was thinking, ‘Why not just find a
Marshall PA20?’
TONEQUEST REPORT V10. N9. July-August 2009
is a great mod...
You can make it a
mid boost by
changing the stock
120 pf cap to
The ‘César Diaz mod’ – replacing the original output transformer in a Fender Deluxe, Vibrolux or Pro Reverb with an
OT from a larger model like the blackface Bassman will firm
up the bottom end, raise the threshold for clean headroom
and add a little power. César did this with all of Stevie Ray
Vaughan’s 1x15 Vibroverbs. If you’re worried about de-valuing a blackface Fender, try it in a Silverface model.
Rectifier tube swaps: Try switching from a 5AR4 to a 5U4,
5R4 or 5V4 for a softer pick attack and more sag.
Replace the stock silicon diode
rectifiers in Fender amps like
Bassman and Showman heads,
or Marshall or Hiwatts with
FREDS (fast recovery epitaxial
diodes). The dynamic pick
attack and overall feel with
FREDS is much smoother and
less hard and clangy sounding
than typical silicon diodes. You’ll need to consult with your
amp tech for the proper FRED values for your amp’s power
supply and safe installation. Since you’re working with the
power supply circuit, this is definitely not a ‘do-it-yourself’
Add a 25K midrange pot to all Fender amps that don’t have
one. This dramatically expands the tone of a Deluxe Reverb,
Pro Reverb, Princeton Reverb, Vibrolux Reverb, etc. I usually
install the pot in the hole for the extension speaker jack on
the back panel (no drilling required).
The KT66 mod in a Fender gives it a more tubby bottom end.
5881s in a 6L6 Fender are the opposite – they sound more
aggressive and distorted – it’s a good sound if you want more
compression and output tube distortion from a typical 6L6
Fender blackface or silverface amp.
Installing and re-biasing a
Fender amp designed for
6V6 power tubes with
6L6s as David described
can produce a bigger,
stronger voice. Sean
Costello always had me
bias his blackface Deluxe
for 6L6s, and it was his
main stage amp for years.
Sean Costello
You can also use tubes like
the current production Tung-Sol 5881 for a bigger tone with a
little more grease. Bumping up from 6V6s to 6L6s is best suited
to the blackface Deluxe Reverb and tweed Deluxe (Neil Young).
Changing the value of the bright switch cap in a Fender amp
Using 6550 output tubes in a Marshall is also a great move...
You have to change a few things – it requires a feedback wire
change and rebiasing. Instead of
getting that hi-fi, high-end
breakup, you get a smoother
midrange voice with a fuller,
fatter bottom end – kind of like
6L6s but with more power. It
gives the amp more headroom,
too. You can also try KT77s in a
Marshall. It has a more sawedoff sound that’s looser and
mushier, if that’s what you like.
The silverface Fender amps are among the best sounding bargains in the amp world, and when you dial them in right with
good tubes and speakers, they can easily beat the sound of
many contemporary ‘boutique’ amps that cost three times as
much. Blackfacing a silverface makes the amp sound less
dumpy... warmer and more musical with a little more mids
and gain. Some amps need restoration before you make the
change over to blackface specs. I’ll often get an amp like a
ragged out early ‘70s Super Reverb with leaking caps that
still works, and I’ll go through it and replace the power supply caps, clean up the changes to the circuit that occurred in
the silverface era and the amp turns out sounding amazing.
Some of the silverface amps are closer to a blackface circuit
than others... There were fewer changes from blackface to silverface in amps like the Deluxe or Princeton Reverb, while
Bassman heads, Super Reverb, Vibrolux Reverb and Pro
Reverb amps had more changes. When you blackface an
amp, you’re
replacing caps
and resistors,
removing unnecessary parasitic
caps, re-dressing
leads and making
changes to the
phase inverter
circuit. The cost
of blackfacing a silverface amp starts at roughly $200 for an
amp that has been well maintained and doesn’t need restoration beyond the changes to a blackface circuit. You often need
to plan on replacing tubes and speakers, but once you get a
silverface right, they can sound incredibly good.
TONEQUEST REPORT V10. N9. July-August 2009
Words of Caution
Some people like to
old amps
by referencing the
and replacing any
caps or
resistors that are out of spec by more than maybe 5%. Fender
amps were originally built with parts that had an allowable
tolerance of 10%-15%, which is why some of them sounded
better than others even when they were new. Over 40-50
years some of these components can drift, and this is how we
wind up with old Fenders that sound like magic, and others
that just sound dogged-out. Amps can age in both good and
bad ways. You might have an old amp that sounds pretty
good, and if you blueprint it with all new components, a lot
of the character of the amp can disappear. Everybody has
heard stories about the guy who has all the old Astron caps
yanked out of his tweed Deluxe, takes it home, plugs in and
cries... Sometimes you have to change parts that are shot to
enable the amp to work and remain stable... other times it’s a
judgment call. The most important point of having work done
on any amp is to optimize it for your specific needs. I try to
leave as many of the old coupling caps on the board as possible, because they play a big part in shaping the tone of the
amp. Power supply caps are less important, although some
people would argue that, and there are good replacement
transformers available today when you need them. I usually
install a Mercury Magnetics Tone Clone in a classic amp
unless the customer specifically wants something else.
You’ve heard this before... all guitar amplifiers operate on
lethal voltages, which are also stored in the power supply
caps, meaning you can be shocked even when the amp is
unplugged. Aside from simple speaker and tube swaps, any
work performed on the internal circuit of an amp should be
left to a professional. And if your amp tech isn’t familiar with
any of the specific mods we’ve described here, we suggest
you find one that is... One TQ reader had a midrange pot
added by a ‘tech’ who got it all wrong, and he wound up having to send his amp to Jeff. Mod forth (with caution...) TQ
The Chicken
Wire mod is a
classic for
amps owned
and provided
by club owners as a courtesy to bands.
I just did a
Chicken Wire
mod on a couple of silverface Fenders for Matt at Fat Matt’s Rib Shack in
Atlanta. Basically, you construct a chicken wire cage around
the bottom of the chassis to prevent the tubes from being
pulled without first having to remove the back panel. This
does a great job of preventing the blues bands that play at Fat
Matt’s from jacking the tubes out of his amps at the end of
the night. I’m not kidding.
Bakos Ampworks Atlanta, 404-607-8426
When Less is More – The Amp Preserver
Perhaps you’ve
heard how Eddie
Van Halen used a
variac to coax his
vintage Marshall
into those gloriously cocky
‘brown’ tones
from his early
recordings by
knocking the
voltage down to 90 VAC on his Marshall with a variac... As is
so often the case in the music world, rumors of the Van Halen
variac circulated like the clap among guitarists, some of
whom got the story wrong, thinking that by really cranking a
variac beyond 110 volts (more is better, right?) they would be
delivered to electric Shangri-La post haste. As amps blew up,
interest in variacs waned.
Other musicians who were at
least grounded in a casual,
street-wise understanding of
physics had discovered that
their amps indeed sounded better at slightly lower voltages
than the typical 120VAC USA
wall current, as Junior Watson
sagely noted in our December
2006 ‘West Coast Blues’ cover
story. Tonal considerations
aside, working the aging components in a vintage amp at 120 volts when it was originally
designed to run at 115 isn’t optimal either, and this fact was
not lost on a tube hi-fi enthusiast in Illinois by the name of
Carl Hartman. A guitarist friend of Carl’s who owns vintage
TONEQUEST REPORT V10. N9. July-August 2009
amps had seen a voltage reduction circuit somewhere online,
inspiring Carl to do some
research of his own, since he
had noticed that the transformers on his vintage Dynaco tube
hi-fi amp would become hot
enough to ‘fry an egg’ at
today’s higher wall currents.
Carl: “I found a design for
reducing the line voltage in an
ARRL manual – an Amateur
Radio Relay League ham radio manual from around 1944-45.
It is a fairly straightforward method of dropping the line voltage using a transformer. If you wire the transformer in phase
with the current it will boost it by whatever the output of the
transformer is, and if you wire it out of phase it will reduce it
by the same amount. So I built this thing and tried it on the
Dynaco and you could now put your hand on the transformer
– it was running cooler, as designed. I talked with my guitar
playing friends and while you can use a variac, they weigh a
good twenty pounds, they aren’t really portable, and there is
no volt meter, so you can’t see the actual voltage you’re
drawing. My design for the Amp Preserver is a labor of
love... I hand-machine the box, I have an assortment of chassis punches and it’s all hand-drilled and hand-punched, hand
soldered and built like a rock.”
We agree. Carl’s little gray box is indeed built to last in ‘50s
mil-spec style, but that’s not why you’ll want it. Sure, given a
choice, none of us would choose to cook the original components in our vintage amps with five more volts than the 115
these amps were designed for (or the proper 105 VAC for
British amps). Here in Atlanta, our line current is pegged at
exactly 120, and we’ve heard that the line voltage in New York
can exceed 125! Your vintage American amps were intended to
‘see’ 115, British amps 105, and the single chicken head knob
on the Amp Preserver has three settings – ‘Line,’ which is your
actual line current, -6, which will take our line current in
Atlanta down to precisely 115, or -12, at 109.
Comfortable in the
knowledge that you
are now no longer
over-cooking yer
precious babies,
you’ll also experience a tonal benefit
of impressive proportions... At 115
VAC our vintage
Fender amps sound clearer and cleaner. No, not as in ‘lost’
distortion clean... the amps just sound clearer at all volume
levels, and you’ll notice that a certain amount of trashy stuff
lurking in the high frequencies when you overdrive the amp
completely disappears at 115. You may not have noticed this
trashy stuff... but you will when comparing the ‘Line’ and -6
settings as the clarity emerges. The net effect is not unlike the
difference between a lot of current production ‘PAF’ humbuckers and vintage PAFs in terms of clarity and note separation. It’s just a superior sound.
Now, Carl Hartman’s
home workshop is
no factory, so you
may have to wait a
bit to receive your
Amp Preserver, but
at $159, it is definitely an essential,
must-have tool. We
have ours rigged
with a surge protector/power strip that allows all of our amps
to be connected to Carl’s box, which features a heavy duty
on/off toggle switch on the back. Preserve and enjoy...TQ
[email protected]
A Momentary Suspension of Disbelief
Since you are clearly a
reader, if not an avid one
(in which case we salute
you for reading this, at
least), perhaps you’ve
come across the phrase ‘a
momentary suspension of
disbelief’ in the past.
Further thought reveals
many pertinent and useful
applications for such a
wonderful notion that
would allow us to indulge
in trust, faith, romance and
fantasy with childlike innocence untainted by the worldweary adult habit of never quite believing so much, too
much, as if doing so will protect and preserve what little is
left of the innocence we have already lost. No, ‘healthy’ cynicism is hardly that... The cynic uses his jaded view of the
world to slam doors shut with a crashing bang, and all hopeful voices with them. The cynic has an explanation for everything except his inability to embrace the new and unfamiliar
with a sense of wonderment, or even feigned curiosity. He
remains ever vigilant with a singular purpose – to pounce on
TONEQUEST REPORT V10. N9. July-August 2009
naiveté and enthusiasm for what they are – the misguided follies of inconsequential fools who would, for a moment, suspend disbelief at their peril.
On a happier note, guitarists
are by their very nature, anything but cynical. Gullible,
perhaps... cynical, not so
much. A cynical person would
pick up the guitar for the first
time, bash on it for a minute
or so and quickly decide it
wasn’t worth the effort. It’s the
gullible and eternally optimistic among us that are foolish enough to actually believe
we can learn to play the guitar,
and do. Good on ‘ya. So perhaps it shouldn’t be so surprising that guitarists’ apparent
obsession with pedals (and in particular, those that offer the
loftiest pretense of eternal transformation) continues unabated. At the risk of sounding, errr, cynical, we’d like to call
‘time out’ in the search for the holy wail for a little introspection. The wail will come soon enough.
What a Pedal Do
Many of
the first
pedals at
all in the
sense that
you could
step on
them to get yer rocks off. One of the earliest and bitchinest
pedals that wasn’t a pedal is the DeArmond Tremolo Control
first introduced in the late ‘40s and a favorite weapon of Billy
F Gibbons (listen to Rhythmeen – the DeArmond is all over it
– the throbbing, pulsating, bonerizer thing). The utterly delicious if cantankerous Echoplex tube/tape echo must also be
counted as one of the world’s all-time greatest effects... just
don’t step on it.
The biggest selling ‘pedal’ that you
could step on first emerged in the early
‘60s, but it really didn’t catch fire until
Keith Richards whipped it out on
“Satisfaction.” Gibson’s Maestro
Fuzztone introduced germanium driven fuzz to the world, and the race was
on. ‘Fuzz’ held the pole position in
rock music through the late ‘60s, with
Jimi Hendrix stomping on the Arbiter Fuzz Face as he
extended his grasp of effects with Roger Mayer’s Octavia and
the Vox/Cry Baby Wah (and no one has ever wah’d better
than Jimi since).
As the ‘70s unfolded, pedals became increasingly sophisticated as players explored modulation effects. CMI (Chicago
Musical Instruments) who owned Gibson, was a significant
early player in the effects biz, producing far out stuff like the
Maestro Ring Modulator, Envelope Modifier and Phase
Shifter. Electro-Harmonix emerged from Mike Mathews’ fertile vision, then MXR, Mutron, Boss, Ibanez, hordes of custom booteek pedal builders ramped up in the ‘90s... and today
you couldn’t fathom all the pedals being made by companies
as diverse as Roland, to Two Dudes in a Garage Inc. if there
were a Glock leveled at your head. And this is good for the
pedalmakers, God bless ‘em, if insanely challenging for the
rest of us.
What a Pedal Don’t Do
We’ve heard a ton of pedals
in the past ten years, and as
good as the best of them
might be, we’ve never heard
one single pedal that could
make a lousy amp sound
good, or a marginally gifted
guitarist play with the kind
of soulful emotion and tone
that will never be written on
a staff or decoded in tablature. Not one. In fact, a lot
Eddie Cochran
of pedals – distortion, boost
and overdrives in particular, just make matters worse for
everyone involved, and especially the listener, who has
absolutely no emotional investment in the guitarist’s pedal
obsession. If your amp ain’t right... if your pickups ain’t
right... if your mind ain’t right... no pedal is gonna help you.
However, when your rig is tight and your chops are together,
the right pedals can enhance our music way beyond the
bounds of the ordinary plug & play with stunning results.
Frosted, Not Fried
Here’s a thought... Most players today have absolutely no use
for a gonzo, germanium fuzz fest other than as an occasional
curiosity destined to collect more dust than playing time.
Unless you’re dying to render some very heavy Voodoo Child
or Crazy Train riffs from within, do you really need a buzz
bomb on your pedalboard? The sound of a great, naturally
overdriven amp is still pretty hard to beat, and the pedals that
can incrementally goose such amps without adding faux
‘pedal tone’ are the ones to seek, assuming you have an amp
that can do the deed. Step on the Notorious Claymore Nookie
Melter IED and what happens? Your volume goes through the
TONEQUEST REPORT V10. N9. July-August 2009
roof and if you back it down
with the gain up, you got no
game. Lemon jello shooters and
a lap dance in Saskatoon from a
Lithuanian chick named Dunya
and a Led Zep tribute band ’s
drag-ass version of “How Many
More Times” – that’s what you
got. Do you wanna be that guy?
Hell, no. Unless you’re playing
130 dB gigs at Bong-a-roo, why
bring a 12 gauge to a dart game?
With non-distortion effects,
things become a little less complicated. Delay? Get the
Analogman modded Boss DD3,
or buy the whole pie with a Line
6 DL4 ‘green box.’ Reverb? Lee
Jackson’s Mr. Springy is the next best thing to a vintage
Fender tank, and it’s a pedal. Univibe? Our fav is the Foxrox
AquaVibe, and for phasey, dreamy stuff, the Red Witch Moon
Phaser is the ticket. But most players still seem hopelessly
obsessed with finding a pedal that can nudge their amps into
the pleasure zone at practical volume levels. No worries –
we’re inching closer to the holy wail every minute...
Clarity First
Like ‘hot’ pickups and high
gravity ales, we humans instinctively embrace the idea that
more is better, yet the opposite
is often true when it comes to
acquiring stellar tone. And if
our repeated references to clarity have begun to sound like fingernails on a chalkboard, get
used to it... The mind-altering
and elusive, utterly classic,
unforgettable distorted guitar
tones swirling in your head
were quite likely spawned by a relatively clean signal being
expertly jacked up with precision and care. Take David
Gilmour, for example... Now here’s a fellow whose tone we
can agree is immediately recognizable – stunningly lush with
second order harmonics, pristine, smooth, suspended aloft
with beautiful, airy sustain, fidelity and no jagged edges... It’s
all there. And what has he been playing throughout his
career? Mostly vanilla Strats with vanilla pickups – certainly
not overwound – often charging up a Hiwatt or two, or, as
Gilmour’s tech for three decades, Phil Taylor reminded us –
at times even a Galien-Krueger or Fender Twin, which are all
very clean sounding amps, by the way. Working with this
extraordinarily robust and relatively clean signal, Gilmour
precisely dials in an overdriven tone via a pedal like the B.K.
Butler Tube Driver, and
we are then served up
one of those unforgettable solos that sounds
as if the high priest of
rock guitar decided to
throw on some
huaraches, pack a bottle
of Médoc and descend
from the Pyrenees to
remind us all exactly
how the electric guitar is
supposed to sound. Indeed. We spoke at length to Phil Taylor
while in the middle of writing this rant, and he readily confirmed that what Gilmour has always sought in even his most
‘distorted’ guitar passages is clarity.
Let’s keep going... How many ways can people get the
‘secret’ to Stevie Ray Vaughan’s tone fucked up? Yes, he
would occasionally step on an Arbiter Fuzz Face modified by
César Diaz, an Octavia, a Vox wah, or in the early days, a
Tube Screamer, but from the guitar to his amps Stevie was all
about clean, mind-numbing clarity and power rendered
through EV speakers and Fender amps modified with
Bassman output trannies, circuit tweaks and robust power
supply caps, a 100 watt Dumble or two, and when it worked,
a 200 watt Marshall Major. It also helps to string your guitar
with piano wire. Power and clarity. Dirt on dirt doesn’t work.
The challenge for most of us
is a big one – we are no
longer playing at the decibel
levels of an arena band.
Volume must be constrained
to an appropriate level for the
room you’re playing, which
could be anything from a
cramped blues bar to a slightly larger club, a small concert
venue or an outdoor festival stage. This is our reality, and
since we are hobbled by such absolute limitations, we suggest that perhaps your choice of amplifiers undergo careful
consideration before marching off in search of The Most
Magical Pedal In the World. Clarity is of course the arch
enemy of bad players. We call such amps ‘cruelly revealing’
and ‘unforgiving’ in the way they hide and obscure nothing.
A clean amp is what it is, and it will reveal you to be who
you are, too. Ah, but this clean foundation properly laid does
have its rewards, and with just a smidge of grease, true greatness can ensue, which brings us, finally, to the holy wail. We
hope the torturous path we’ve dragged you down thus far hasn’t been too painful, but if you were anticipating a candy-ass
5-star review article on still another pedal that will be forgot-continued-
TONEQUEST REPORT V10. N9. July-August 2009
ten in three months, the pleasure of your disappointment is
all ours. TQ
The Holy Wail & Heirloom Pine
We first heard about Bob Burt years ago from a reader who
had raved about Bob’s skills as a custom cabinet builder in
Pensacola, Florida. Burt is also buddies with John Landgraff
– the noted amp tech and designer of the highly regarded
Landgraff Overdrive sold by Pensacola’s Blues Angel Music.
Apparently the pedal bug bit Bob, too, and he sent us a couple of absolutely remarkable and truly outstanding effects to
try along with an intriguing, custom made 1x12 pine cabinet.
We asked Bob to elaborate on his approach to both pedal and
cabinet building, and our reviews follow. Enjoy...
You mention on your web site that you spent a
lot of time evaluating various boost and overdrive
pedals while developing your own designs. Can
you share some of the most significant things
you’ve learned and observed that have contributed
to the results you’ve achieved?
I’m glad to find that you heard the most important thing
about these two pedals other than their purposed function –
natural, unaltered tone. First and foremost, I have learned that
the largest contributor to tone is in the player’s hands. Each
fretted note or stroke of the pick colors the signal that flows
from the string. Additionally, I have learned that good tone is
subjective for each
individual player,
making it very difficult to produce a
‘one size fits all’
pedal that will
please everyone.
So in considering
these two simple
facts, I have tried
to produce pedals
that are functionally simple and
exceptionally transparent and clean in their output. I consider
the OD and Boost to be functionally very similar to the role
of an amplifier – not necessarily intended to change tone as
much as amplify it, so the cleaner the sound, the better.
Where did you acquire your knowledge of electronics?
I was inspired by John Landgraff originally, and later by Clay
Jones. Clay directed me to RG Keen, who has achieved a
mythical status in the effects world. He is very willing to
share his knowledge through his books and website. I spent
many hours there at reading and experimenting with different projects. There are also many electronics forums where builders can get great info and feedback, and I frequent them often. Additionally, I have several
very close friends who know pedal building inside and out
who are willing to assist me any time I ask.
What seems to make your pedals standout is their
exceptionally musical quality – very natural, organic, smooth, musical and quiet without altering the
sound of the guitar. How much of this is a product
of design versus component selection?
Speaking of overdrives, there is no doubt that I liked the original Ibanez TS 808 most of all, even though I found the Rat
to be a very usable effect as well. There were five things I
identified in those two pedals that I thought would make the
perfect overdrive for me.
* Plenty of saturation and gain available.
* Enhanced lows.
* Reduced or scooped midrange tone.
* A wide range of tone, from ‘brown’ to Twin.
* Increased volume (output).
I think these goals have been
achieved with the Overdrive,
and there was a definite focus
on design with it as well.
Component selection plays a
part too, but not as much as
the design and layout. I could
have used toggle switches,
clipping diodes etc., but so
many of these cannot be used
on the fly, so to me they are
unusable in a live situation. I
wanted to build a simple,
usable unit that might not
work for everyone, but would
be a perfect fit for the right
players, and especially everyday, working musicians.
The Boost followed a similar pattern of production with a
heavy focus on design. It had to be crystal clear, noiseless,
and clean. It makes single coils sound full and fat while
brightening humbuckers and giving them a glassy edge. And
it stays clean, giving your instrument volume to burn.
My list of favorite overdrives is long, but if I had to narrow it
down to a few favorites the list would include the Landgraff
TONEQUEST REPORT V10. N9. July-August 2009
the Clay
and the
TS808. I
have used
all three
extensively over the
Landgraff Dynamic Overdrive
past ten
ears. I use my Landgraff a lot in recording situations and in
church, and it has a very smooth breakup that works well in
lower volume settings. I have also been a real fan of the
Xotic Effects pedals. I owned and used the RC Boost for
years, and I like the fact they incorporated a tone stack into
their circuit. I am also fond of the rotary sound from time to
time and have used an old Rocktek Chorus from the ‘70s to
get this effect and chorus when needed. I’ve also been a fan
of light delay for many years, and the Line 6 Delay (the big
green one) is the most versatile unit I have ever used. My
delay of choice for the past five years has been the DOD
Digital Delay – simple to use and very transparent. I like
small pedals that are easy to set up and play. I have plans by
the end of the year to produce a pedal that houses the overdrive and boost in the same enclosure, saving room on the
pedal board and giving the player the benefit of having these
two units in one package. I use my Boost behind my
Overdrive, which really gives it a huge sound. I intend to
offer a couple more pedals in the near future, with a compressor/sustainer ready to go, and I’m working on a delay as well.
nets. Many may argue that fact, but my ears are my measuring stick. Cabinet design and speaker choice play a big part
as well. I will build with any material a customer requests as
long as it is structurally sound. I have found mahogany to be
my favorite hardwood for cabinets, and maple follows close
behind. Since so many of my builds end up with a natural
finish, it is a real pleasure to work with so many exotics.
So many custom builders seem to use heavy birch
ply... Is this simply because of availability, lack of
imagination, or because Marshall originally used
I suspect many mass-production builders prefer plywood
because it is stable, easy to machine and readily available.
Plywood stays nice and straight after cutting and it is not
affected much by humidity. Pine and other solid woods will
twist and warp as the moisture content rises and falls, making
it more difficult to work with. Also, solid wood has to be
planed and milled extensively, so it requires more labor to get
it ready to use. Being a one man operation, it’s easier for me
to take the time and work the material properly.
Some of the structural features of my cabinets include solid
wood construction, box joint joinery, 7-ply birch baffles,
Regarding the 1x12 cabinet you sent – what kind of
pine did you use (it looks very old...)
The cabinet I sent is made of old growth, reclaimed pine that
is over 100 years old. I have approximately 10,000 board feet
of this material, which should last me for quite a while. I
build exclusively with this old pine unless otherwise requested by my customers. I find it has superior resonance and tone
and to
my ear
it is the
available for
and the benefit of having a cabinet designed and built to
your exact specifications. If a client wants a specific design,
I can produce it, where off-the-shelf, mass-produced cabinets are pretty much the same design. I have learned over
the past eight years building cabinets that design and engineering play a large role in the overall function and output
of a cabinet. Closed back cabinets give you a loud directional sound. Oval ported rear panel designs give you a big,
full sound that can really fill a room. Great for jazz and
blues. I build a 2x12 cabinet that utilizes both these designs
in one cabinet – the best of both worlds. It is a great design
which allows the player the ability to play large or small
venues with excellent results.
TONEQUEST REPORT V10. N9. July-August 2009
We had no
idea what to
expect when
we first
opened the
box holding
Bob Burt’s
Boost and
We didn’t
even know he
built pedals –
seemingly a
stretch for
known for his
cabinet work, but as we now know, Bob is clearly a long-time
player as well and he clearly knows his way around electronics. We couldn’t help but notice, however, that Burt had
declined to name his pedals anything but ‘Clean Boost’ and
‘Overdrive...’ Bob Burt’s Clean Boost and Overdrive... Kinda
like naming your dog Dog, or your cat Cat... no overt references to rare mammals, incendiary devices, body parts or
altered states of consciousness. We find this refreshing. Burt’s
uniformly compact steel cases are a study in simplicity –
nicely finished in enamel paint with no graphics, and an austere array of buttons and knobs – just enough to do the job.
Each pedal gets its own serial number along with an
acknowledgement that it has been made for Blues Angel
Music, and Burt signs each pedal on the back and inside the
case and cover plate.
When we first peeked
inside the Clean Boost, it
looked nearly empty until
we noticed a small circuit
board tucked into one end
beneath a blue blanket of
melted poly shielding. It’s
a wise man who would
make it difficult to have his
work knocked off too easily these days, and given the
performance of the Clean
Boost, knocking off this
pedal wouldn’t be a question of ‘if’ but ‘when.’ We
connected the Clean Boost
to our pedal board second
in line behind the Boss tuner, and chose the ‘58 Tremolux
for a first pass with our Nash TQ Tele. With the 17 watt
Fender’s volume set on 6, we set the single knob on the
Clean Boost at 11
o’clock and let fly with
our usual assortment of
big 6-string chords, noting how the unaffected
sound of the Tremolux
was altered by the pedal,
as well as its affect on
clarity, string definition,
and any detectable
changes in EQ. Trading
the Nash for our most
recent acquisition –
another ‘07 ‘58 Historic
Les Paul stoked with
Holmes humbuckers, we
ran through more complex chords and single string runs, moving the single control on the Clean Boost higher and lower before switching
guitars again to a Nash Strat equipped with Nash’s preferred mix of Lollar blondes with a Lollar Special bridge
pickup. By this time we really didn’t need to keep on
going, but we ran all three guitars through a Germino 55LV
and ‘66 Pro Reverb with Burt’s Clean Boost at varying settings for an encore.
The verdict? Buy this pedal now before the rest of the world
catches on. It’s perfect. Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah... tone is subjective and to Burt’s credit, he isn’t making any bold claims, but
we will. All the Clean Boost does is take the precise tone of
your guitar and amp and make it bigger by degrees. If you
have your amp set ‘clean,’ you can bump up the breadth and
depth of your clean tone, or at higher settings gently push it
into an overdriven state inch by inch. Nothing else changes.
Your tone remains completely unaffected, but the extraordinarily natural musicality of the Clean Boost must be experienced to be believed. Burt’s pedal simply performs like corn
starch or flour as an invisible thickener for whatever you’re
cooking, depending on how much boost you choose to use.
Set your amp at higher volume levels with distortion just
emerging or in full bloom and you get more, but not at the
expense of tone or clarity. It’s as if the pedal weren’t ‘there,’
and with every slight twist of the control you’re plugging into
a bigger, progressively bolder version of the very same amp.
Yes, this may require you to indulge in the momentary suspension of disbelief, but when our first session with the Clean
Boost ended, we sat back and thought to ourselves, “That is
one of the best-sounding and most useful tools we have ever
heard.” Desiderata.
The Overdrive
With its trippy green and black swirling paint job, the
appearance of the Overdrive reminded us of a similar multicolor bowling ball pattern used by John Landgraff for his
TONEQUEST REPORT V10. N9. July-August 2009
and both
of these
effects are
comparable in their
exceptional ability
to unleash
the full,
of your best guitars and amps. Just keep in mind that any
pedal – no matter how well designed and constructed – can’t
make your rig sound fundamentally better. The better your
unaffected tones sound before you step on anything, the better your results will be when you do. With boost and overdrives, any flaws in your tone will be magnified, not
After ten years and countless guitar amplifiers having passed
through our hands as new review pieces and used and vintage amps bought for review, we’ve ruthlessly pared down
the number of amps we own now to a core group representing classic and essential benchmarks. As such, we can audition everything from speakers to pickups, guitars and pedals
with a high degree of confidence that we’re consistently
treading on high ground – exceptionally high, in fact...
something on the order of the upper five percentile, if such
ratings mean much. After ten years of pruning, we‘re confident of that much, for now anyway. Still, there are undiscovered treasures yet to be found. Always will be.
Like the Clean Boost,
Bob Burt’s Overdrive
displays a remarkable
tendency to avoid coloring tone unless you
choose to do so by
adjusting the single EQ
control, which is neutral
at 12 o’clock, acting as a
treble cut at lower settings while increasing
treble and presence
above the neutral setting. Burt: “I wanted to
be able to go from a
Fender ‘brown tone’ – to
a Fender Twin with a
roll of the tone knob, so
12 o’clock is sort of like the neutral position with the darker
that, and
above 12
Like the
Xotic RC
that Bob
(and a
stalwart on our pedalboard), the flexibility of even one EQ
control in an overdrive is tremendously useful. In contrast to
the Clean Boost, the Overdrive introduces more compression,
producing variable levels of focused intensity as you mix the
and gain
gain settings
result in a
while increasing gain over volume steadily ratchets up the
level of focused compression and burn. Pinch harmonics roll
off your fingertips, sustain cascades into bowed violin tones,
and Burt’s Overdrive is every bit as musical and void of sawtoothed grind as his Clean Boost. With our amps – namely
the Tremolux fortified with 5881 Tung-Sols, the Pro Reverb,
Germino 55LV and ‘59 GA40, we were able to get to our
intended destination (subtle breakup to gloriously rich Cream
tones) with the Clean Boost alone. The Overdrive delivers
you to more ‘modern’ levels of distortion intensity created by
all the usual suspects who first lit up high gain Marshalls in
the ‘80s and beyond.
Tone Candy
With its clear finish and wide grain streaked with sugary
resin, you can immediately sense that Bob Burt’s 1x12 cabinet has been built with very old pine – heirloom stuff often
seen in old southern homes and described as ‘heart pine.’ Our
sample cabinet was finished in a thin, light amber lacquer
TONEQUEST REPORT V10. N9. July-August 2009
with a clover leaf cutout on the back that achieves the same
effect as an oval opening, effectively bridging the sound of
both an open and closed back design with a focused, yet airy
ambience. Equipped with another of our favorite speakers,
the Eminence Wizard, the cabinet weighs 31.2 pounds at
20x16.5x10.5 inches, and heavy duty, tall rubber feet are
mounted on the bottom to elevate the cab off the floor. The
cabinet is artfully box-jointed using 3/4 inch pine boards with
every detail of Burt’s craftsmanship exposed at each corner
beneath the clear lacquer.
As striking as this cabinet appears, hearing is believing when
you experience its sound with the full-bodied and throaty
Wizard. We ran the Germino 55LV through it on 6 and the
amp had never sounded so lively. The difference between
pine and birch ply can be startling – even more so when the
wood has gracefully aged for a century. Burt’s cabinet produces a bright and bouncy tone anchored with rich mids and
plenty of low end that makes birch ply sound a little plodding
and stiff by comparison. You can hear this contrast easily
enough with a ‘50s Fender open-back combo cabinet, but it
seems to be accentuated even more in Burt’s extension cab.
We can only imagine how a 2x12 would sound... Best of all,
Burt will build virtually anything to spec, which leaves the
door wide open for you to explore the possibilities for separate extension or combo cabs utilizing his stash of rare pine
that possesses extraordinary acoustic qualities and a striking
visual appeal. Think of it as tone candy.TQ
Noiseless in Richmond
After 30 years or so winding pickups, Lindy Fralin has finally developed noiseless designs for P90s, Strats and Teles. For
those of you interested in getting the hum out of your life, listen up...
What inspired you to begin thinking about noiseless
pickups after all this time?
I spent months researching patents for pickups, and I found
some fascinating pages in the original PAF patent filed by
Seth Lover in 1955 where he had included every way you
could use two coils to get hum-canceling; two coils all the
way across (PAF's), a left and right (like a P-Bass or our P92), a stack of two coils (one passive), and sideways or top to
top (the EBO bass pickups and our hum-canceling P-90).
Lover covered every future possible use of two coils for a
hum-canceling design when the PAF patent was filed. But
they obviously didn’t enforce their patents, because the
Gretsch Filter-tron and the P-bass came out within months of
the first humbucker and Gibson didn’t fight it.
Noiseless P90s
We wanted
a noise-free
P-90 that
was the
same size
and would
fit the same
covers as
the originals, and
after making
many prototypes of different ways
to do this, we came up with our present design. Our humcanceling P-90 uses two coils rotated inward or “top-to-top”
to get hum-canceling. This let me use the same six poles
down the center for a stock look. Also, this way both coils are
both active, unlike a stack design. Of the three output choices, the ‘Stock’ set is my favorite. They still have bright
TONEQUEST REPORT V10. N9. July-August 2009
wound strings, but
there is enough
thickness to make
them grind like
Chuck Berry or
Freddie King.
(These sound like
50’s P-90s wound
to 8K or less).
With the 5% overwound set, they
get a little thicker
and darker but to
my ears not better
sounding. The 5%
under set is very
clean. This design
doesn’t seem to
lend itself to overwinding or under-winding as much as the original single single coil P-90s do.
a more efficient design, we could use fewer turns, and all the
bridge pickups in the sets are wound approximately 10%
stronger. I don’t really like high output Strat or Tele pickups,
because you lose something you just can’t get back, so we
don’t push the ‘High-Output’ split blade.
The Vintage and Blues outputs sound great – the Blues being
5% stronger. There is a nickel silver base-plate underneath
that is soldered to the bottom of the blades because we found
that the blades had to be grounded. I actually came up with
this design five years ago, but I couldn’t figure out how to
eliminate the dead spot in the middle. Then last year, when
things were slow, I revisited the design and spent a month
trying various blade shapes, and one day it came to me to
have them cross. We’re also already working on a similar
Telecaster design that will be out soon.
A lot of pickup designers have used right/left designs – like the
P-Bass, and the pickups in the ‘50s Valco lapsteels with 3 and
3 poles and the plate above the strings. I don’t think it even
occurred to them at Valco that they could be hum-canceling.
About half of those pickups are noiseless and half aren’t. Some
people call this pickup the ‘Ry Cooder’ model because he put
one in the bridge position of a Strat. We have found we like the
left-right design better than stacked or two coils all the way
Call them what you will – hum-canceling, noiseless or
stacked – guitar companies and pickup designers have been
fighting hum since the early ‘50s. Gibson’s humbuckers may
have been the first patented design, but Gretsch (Ray Butts’
Filtertrons) and Leo Fender quickly followed with their own
noiseless pickups. We’ve always maintained that when you
lose the noise, something unique to the sound of typical
‘noisy’ pickups gets lost with it. Difficult to describe in
words – the best description we can offer is a kind of shimmering, vivid harmonic reflection that seems to disappear
along with the noise, sometimes replaced by a rather linear,
sterile character that just isn’t quite as deep or interesting,
musically speaking. That’s a generalization, of course, but a
fair one in many cases.
The only way to
design this to fit in a
Strat cover was to
have blades – not
Alnico rods, and the
reason they cross in
the center is totally
functional – otherwise you would
have a weak spot in
the middle when
you bend a string.
Using blades
allowed me to use
two full size coils
with a pair of long
bar magnets underneath. The blade
itself is in the style
of a Charlie Christian pickup, which was always a loud but
clean pickup. We used standard #42 gauge wire, but since it’s
On the other hand,
we like some
noiseless designs
very much... They
don’t remotely
sound like vintage
Fender single
coils, but Joe
Bardens take no
prisoners – they
are big, roaring
mofos, imposing
and solid from top
to bottom.
Nothing not to like
there. We also like
the Lace Sensor
gold pickups often
found as original
equipment in early Eric Clapton Signature Strats. Coupled
with the EC mid-boost circuit, there isn’t much you can’t do
TONEQUEST REPORT V10. N9. July-August 2009
with that rig (although by now a lot of the necks on those
guitars are a little wonky). EMGs aren’t bad at all, either, if
that’s what you like. And now we can add Lindy Fralin noiseless pickups to the mix.
very similar to a
pair of
P90s we
own –
clear and proud, there isn’t a hint of muddiness in them, no
shrill icepick tones or flubby bass. Like our old P90s, we’d
describe the Fralins as rather hi-fi compared to what we know
some of you may consider to be the ultimate P90 sound,
which can be easily described in two words... Mississippi
Queen. Or, Leslie West. Or, Les Paul Junior... (Well, that’s
three, but you get the point). Busted!
The Fralin noiseless P90s are not about such heavy, overwound, grind me‘til I whimper tones, although that’s not to
say you couldn’t get those tones with the Fralins, but you’ll
need to rely on your amp, some treble roll-off and maybe a
pedal to get there. No, the noisless Fralins are by nature a
cleaner, clearer rendition of Gibson’s famous single coil, with
both the neck and bridge producing an animated treble and
upper mid presence that is subject to the subtle influences of
your guitar. Given their transparent clarity, the acoustic quality of a semi-hollow body, for instance, can sound slightly
more so. What you won’t hear is the edgy intensity and
aggressive attitude of a typical vintage-style, slightly overwound (+8K) P90. If that’s what you want, may we respectfully suggest that no one is going to hear the ‘noise’ until you
stop playing anyway, so go ‘vintage’ – hum and all. Just
remember that if you consider yourself to be a ‘vintage’ tonehound, our pair of authentic ‘50s P90s have far more in common with the Fralin noiseless set than what you may think of
as a stronger and midrangey ‘vintage P90 tone.’ There are all
kinds of ‘vintage’ tone, and now you’ve got another worthy
option in the noiseless category. The Fralin P90s are an easy
drop-in replacement for stock P90s – soapbar or dogear.
You know what the big challenge is with Strat pickups... The
big, liquid tone of the neck pickup seems easiest to nail, the
middle pickup often just sounds unremarkably there, and the
bridge can be too sharp, thin and brittle. But tone the bridge
down with a few more turns of wire on the bobbin and you
lose the quack and pop with the bridge and middle combined.
Strat pickup sets just require very careful and thoughtful
tweaking, and they seem to us to be the most temperamental
pickup ever designed given their 3-position orientation on a
The good news is that the noiseless ‘Blues’ set of Fralins we
requested for review are not afflicted with a noticeable swing
and miss in any combination. This is not so surprising, since
Lindy Fralin has been winding pickups most of his life and
you’d have to assume he listened to these ad nauseum before
putting a final nail in the design... We like the tone of this
noiseless set a lot, which hits the mark in all three positions,
missing only some of that scooped, shimmery, noisy vintage
stuff previously mentioned. You don’t get that, but the tone is
rich, clear and strong (for a Stratocaster), and very nicely
voiced. We also admire the design – the artfully arched top,
cream 2-piece bobbin (black is also available), and blades
crossing in the center. These pickups don’t make your Strat
look or sound like a science project. What you can expect is a
righteous variation on Stratocaster tone – not ‘vintage’ – but
nonetheless outstanding in a hum-canceling design.TQ, 804-358-2699
TONEQUEST REPORT V10. N9. July-August 2009
PO Box 717 Decatur, GA. 30031-0717
Editor/Publisher David Wilson
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TONEQUEST REPORT V10. N9. July-August 2009

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