Welcome…

. . . to a blog about all the things you can do with — or to — a guitar. Topics: DIY, instruments, amps, effects, recording, software, technique, music history, music heresy.

Be My Friend, Friend!

kitty_friends

I haven’t been able to post much here at tonefiend.com recently because I’ve been overwhelmed by two big-ass projects that have occupied most waking hours, plus some sleeping hours as well. (I’ll share the details as soon as I’m allowed.)

Yet somehow, I’ve found time to post various things to Facebook. I know some of you are already pals with me there. But please — anyone with the patience for my pontification, send me a Facebook friend invite. (I’m not picky. I’ll be friends with anyone who doesn’t post spam, or racist/sexist/homophobic shit.)

If you’re not an FB type, believe me, I get it! I’ve got issues with the service myself, even if Mark Zuckerberg lives in my San Francisco neighborhood (in a much larger house, though I bet he doesn’t own a Hello Kitty! guitar, the loser). But if you ever hang out there, please befriend me. I’ve got lots of interesting music/guitar pals, many of whom know a hell of a lot more about this stuff than I do. We often have … um … lively conversations. Hope to see you!

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Oh — if you type my name into the FB search field, you’ll see both my accounts. Pick the one with the Hello Kitty! guitar. The one with the green face is the account I use to hide from keep in touch with relatives and such.

BTW, I’m have no intention of abandoning this site! I just haven’t been able to put together the longer-form pieces I like to post, and probably won’t be able to for the next couple of months. (Meanwhile, I come here every day to respond to question/comments.)

Pinch Me. My Three New Pedals Are Finally Out!

Pedals In Stock

Holy crap, I can’t believe it! My three new pedals are actually in stock and for sale at Vintage King.

The new arrivals are Filth Fuzz, Cult Germanium Overdrive, and Gross Distortion. (Meanwhile, Duh Remedial Fuzz, which debuted last year, is back in stock after the last batch sold out.)

Here’s an overview video that my pals at Premier Guitar shot at the NAMM show last January.

As always, I’m grateful to the friends who helped make this happen, especially Miko Mader from M1, my distributor, and Tony Lott, who oversaw production at the Cusack Music facility in Michigan. In addition to displaying superhuman patience during the long development period, Miko and Tony made many suggestions that improved my original designs. Thanks also to my pal Tom Menrath, who introduced me to Miko and Tony. (Tom used to work at Vintage King, but now he’s with pro audio champs Cutting Edge Audio and Video.)

I’ve posted demo videos for each pedal here before. But I’m reposting them after the jump in case you need a memory refresher. (I certainly do!) And I couldn’t resist including a couple of brag-worthy quotes from some of my early adopters. Thank you all!

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The PAF Strat

As threatened, here’s a closer look at Strat with PAF humbuckers used for my recent “God Only Knows” cover. Most parts are from the long-suffering guitar used for all the Mongrel Strat Project experiments. And this one is especially mongrel-ific, with its blend of vintage Fender and Gibson.

Obviously, Gibson pickups is a Strat is far from a new idea. But usually, that arranged marriage is designed to spawn macho, high-gain solos minus the characteristic shrillness of vintage Strat bridge pickups. While many players I love have used humbucker-equipped Strats, I’ve always loathed playing them myself. But what, I wondered, if you didn’t use a hot humbucker, but an über-vintage PAF?

Like many players my age and younger, I was astonished when I first encountered a vintage-voiced humbucker. It was nothing like the dark, over-overdriven tones I associated with the word humbucker. A good PAF is sparkly, resonant, and perfectly capable of gloriously bright and clean tones. Here I used a Seymour Duncan Joe Bonamassa signature set, the same one heard in a more Gibson-like context here.

The results are … compelling. As expected, notes have far more mass than on a conventional Strat, and the bass response is vastly increased. There’s no shortage of top-end either, though the big lows can overwhelm the highs at times. So while I’m pretty much always obsessed with bass-cut controls (especially the high-pass section of the PTB circuit I’ve written about approximately 37 zillion times), it’s especially invaluable in this case. Since lows disproportionately drive distortion, even modest bass cuts clean up the tone and make highs speak more clearly.

I’ve also incorporated the dual-capacitor treble control I wrote about here. It creates a Vari-Tone/ToneStyler effect in a simplified way: Instead of using a clunky rotary switch to choose from a large set of treble-trimming capacitors, it fades between a large cap and a small cap, yielding the same resonant effect as the more complex options. I’ve incorporated this circuit in several guitars now, and it’s still working for me. It’s especially nice here, when paired with a Steinberger JackPot potentiometer, which lets you bypass the entire tone circuit for absolute maximum volume and brightness. I chose the small cap based on the minimum amount I’d ever want to remove from the signal, and the larger one based on the maximum cut I’d use.

I would have included a photo of the project in progress, but I didn’t because I’m embarrassed about how awful it looks inside. I needed to route out the pickup cavities to accommodate these larger pickups. But instead of taking it to a professional, or getting a proper router and learning how to use it, I chipped away with the tiny routing bit on an inexpensive Dremel tool. Do yourself a favor, kids, and don’t follow my lazy-ass example.

But hey, what’s a Strat pickguard for if not to conceal your shoddy workmanship? The guitar looks okay in the end, and I’m digging its sounds, even though it was far harder to get accustomed to than I’d anticipated. I had to recalibrate my right-hand dynamics to prevent treble notes from screeching. I was almost ready to chalk this up as a failed experiment, but after a few days of noodling around, I started to get the hang of it and enjoy the results. I think I’ll keep it this way for a while — or at least until the next Mongrel Strat concept wafts up from the bowels of Hell. 🙂

“God Only Knows”: A Golden Anniversary Tribute

It probably wins my vote for prettiest pop-rock song of all time, and it’s a far-from-controversial opinion. “God Only Knows” and all the other great tracks from the Beach Boys’ incomparable Pet Sounds album are 50 years old. (The album was released on May 26th, 1966.)

I owe a big thanks to my pal Mark Goldenberg who inspired me to really learn the entire tune. Mark performs an exquisite solo version, far more lyrical and poetic than my relatively motoric reading. He and I are also preparing a duo version for an album project in the works.

I say “really learn” because you don’t appreciate the number of perverse composition tricks in the tune until you study it bar by bar. Example: the jarring leap into the bridge after the second verse. Or the way that chromatically snaking bridge seems to usher in a return to the chorus, but it’s only a three-bar tease (and in the “wrong” key at that) before a exquisite harmonic pirouette into the final verse. Or the fact that many, if not most, chords in the song don’t feature their root note in the bass. (Especially that verse! The voice leading simply makes no sense on paper, but it’s perfection in practice.) And while countless musicians have praised the outro’s beautiful choral polyphony, I haven’t got much to add, except to say that it’s frickin’ hard trying to cover all those parts! (I didn’t succeed — I only played as many as I could cram into my left hand.)

And oh, the guitar: It’s the latest installment in the ongoing Mongrel Strat Project.I’ve been hacking away at the same sad parts for years. Literally hacking, in this case: I had to route out the pickup cavity to accommodate a pair of über-retro PAFs (a Duncan Joe Bonamassa signature set). Yeah, a Strat with humbuckers isn’t a new idea. But the pickups used are almost always high-gain models designed for macho soloing. I wanted to try something low-gain and unpotted for relatively bright, resonant sounds not quite so far removed from traditional Strat tones. I’m finishing up a video about the project, and I’ll post it in the next few days.

Anyway: Happy birthday, beautiful. You wear your age well.:)

My Favorite New Amps: Carr Skylark & Lincoln

Carr Lincoln and Skylark amps.

Carr Lincoln and Skylark amps.

I’ve been using my Carr Skylark amp incessantly for the last 18 months or so. I’d originally reviewed it for Premier Guitar magazine, and then I bought one for myself. I dig the fact that, while Skylark is inspired by 1960s Fender amps, builder Steve Carr made numerous departures from the Fullerton template. To my ear Skylark sounds better than my ’60s originals. That’s especially true of its re-voiced tone stack, where the ranges are smaller and subtler than on vintage Fenders, with more of a Matchless-style “no bad settings” sensibility.

For better or worse, history repeated itself earlier this year when I reviewed Carr’s Lincoln in PG. Lincoln is to Vox what Carr is to Fender — not a clone, but vintage-inspired model with its own character and unique twists. Its dual EL-84 architecture makes it a cousin of the AC-15. But I think of it more as a “fantasia on a theme by Vox.” It’s captures the Vox qualities I dig, minus the ones that can make dealing with vintage Voxes a major drag.

Carr-Skylark-Wiring-WEB

Skylark features true point-to-point wiring, with no circuit or turret board. (Lincoln, however, uses bits of circuit board for non-audio functions such as channel-switching.)

If you’ve listened to many of my videos and demo clips from the last year or so, you’ve heard these amps, so I figured I’d focus on them. For tech details, see the reviews. This video is more about how the amps inspire me musically.

From their flawless cabinetry to their ravishing tones, these amps are simply stunning. Cheap, they ain’t, but I felt like I was (RATIONALIZATION ALERT!) investing in musical art. Or maybe I’m making up for not buying a Trainwreck amp back in the ’90s when they were affordable.

I especially love how these Carr amps sound with my flatwound-strung guitars, and I used them on most of the demos for my pedals because they’re so very flattering. Ironically, I thought I’d given up buying new amps, because I was having so much fun building from kits. But trust me — both these instruments sound way better than any of my kit amps. Have a listen!

Torn Asunder

Sorry for even more solipsistic stompbox stuff, but I couldn’t resist. David Torn, one of the players I admire most on earth, just posted an unsolicited demo of my Filth Fuzz on Soundcloud. I love his post-apocalyptic soundscape.

For the uninitiated, David is one of those rare players who deploys staggering technical skill in a bold, unique style utterly unpolluted by cheesy guitar heroics. He’s recorded with Bowie, Tori Amos, John Legend, Madonna, and k.d. lang and created many brilliant solo albums. Last year’s Only Sky is particularly magnificent. It makes a great introduction to this singular guitarist/composer.

Thanks, David!

“Eleanor Rigby” Rehearsal

Lucky me: I just started rehearsing for a duo project with one of my guitar heroes, the brilliant Mark Goldenberg. Here’s a run-through of “Eleanor Rigby,” one of the tunes we’re working on. It’s pretty rough still, and the recording quality ain’t great. But I love Mark’s playing so much here that I couldn’t resist sharing.

I’ve only known Mark a year or two, but we hit it off as soon as we met at one of Teja Gerkin’s solo guitar events. Mark played ravishing solo version of so many of my favorites: “God Only Knows,” “Shenandoah,” “Wichita Lineman,” “Mood Indigo,” and more. I love his ultra-dynamic touch and beautiful Bill Evans-style harmonies. Plus he’s just an cool guy.

And it turns out we both studied with the same teacher: the late Ted Greene. (I took lessons from Ted as a teen, with a few more sessions 20 years later. Mark studied with Ted long after he became a leading LA sideman and session player.) You can read more about Mark on his website. He’s recorded and toured with Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt, Eels, Natalie Imbruglia, Chris Isaak, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Peter Frampton and — hehehe — William Shatner. It’s a real thrill to collaborate with such an inspired player.

I’m playing a Gretsch TV Jones baritone on loan from my pal Xander Soren. Mark’s playing his magnificent mahogany Collings.

Premier Guitar’s Winter NAMM Report on Gore Pedals

Lookit! My pals and colleagues at Premier Guitar just posted a video demo of my pedals shot at NAMM last month.

It was a trip being on the business end of that gear-review microphone! Shooting this clip was surprisingly nerve-racking. You have to make the gear sound good … try not to play too terribly … speak coherently … and not come off as a dick. It’s a tall order, at least for me.

Thanks to the gang at Voodoo Lab for letting me shoot this in their booth. (Which they did because they’re just plain cool.) Thanks also to Shabat Guitars for letting me borrow this pretty guitar, and to Fryette for letting me plug it into one of their spectacular Aether combo amps. Man, am I a freeloader, or what?

If you’d like to learn more about Gore Pedals, please visit my Gore Pedals page for studio-quality recordings with multiple guitars, more pedal settings, and lots of geeky tech info.

Cult Is Coming!

Cult_crop

Of the four pedals new I announced at NAMM, Cult is probably closest to my heart— it’s my favorite overdrive circuit. If you’ve watched many of my videos, you’ve heard it. I even built it into a few guitars, including this one, this one, this one, and this one. And now Cult is coming in pedal form.

It’s no secret that 90% of today’s overdrive circuits are derived from the Ibanez Tube Screamer. Screamers are great if you want to compress your signal for consistent and predicable results. But Cult provides the opposite effect, expanding your guitar’s dynamic range rather than compressing it. It’s great for players who vary their touch and guitar-knob settings for maximum tonal variation.

Cult is sort of the mutant grandchild of the single-transistor boosters of the 1960s, including the Dallas Rangemaster. It’s no Rangemaster clone, though — the parts, values, controls, and tones have little to do with that classic treble booster. But Cult has the crackling presence and extreme dynamic response you only get from such minimal germanium-transistor circuits. (Guitar Player magazine went so far as to call it “the most dynamic overdrive we’ve heard.”) The pedal heard in this video is a final factory prototype, and the units now in production look and sound identical.

Have a listen:

As the video demonstrates, Cult lets you veer from crispy-clean to spatter distortion just by adjusting your guitar’s volume control. But my favorite way to use it is to set the gain so that you can go from sparkle to splat just by altering your touch, as heard in this video:

Cult with be available from Vintage King in the next month or two. There’s more info on the Joe Gore Pedals product page.

NAMM and Not NAMM 2016

Screenshot 2016-01-19 08.08.08How to tell holiday season is officially over: It’s time for NAMM 2016! And this will be the first time I attend not as a music magazine writer, but as a guy trying to sell guitar pedals. Or as Ray Liotta put it in Goodfellas: “Just another schnook.”

Not like I can afford a proper booth or anything. I’ll just be wandering around with a sack of goods like some frickin’ crack dealer. I’ll have a pedalboard with new four new releases (plus a couple of surprises) on display at the Vintage King booth in Hall A. But sadly, it won’t be hooked up to anything — there just isn’t enough room for live pedal demos. However, my awesome friends at Voodoo Lab will have my new Filth Fuzz in the demo pedalboard at their booth. (No business connection there — they’re just doing me a favor ’cause they’re cool.) So you can stop by and try it out while sampling Voodoo Lab’s latest and greatest.

If you’re attending NAMM and would like to check out my stuff — or just meet and say hi — drop me a note. I’ll be at the show Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. (Sorry, I can’t help obtain passes. I had to scuffle for my own like … a regular schnook.)

But I’m skipping the show on Friday. Friday night I’ve got a gig at Taix restaurant in Los Angeles, performing my solo looping material and sharing the bill with my longtime pals, Double Naught Spy Car. I haven’t played L.A. in several years, and this is the first time playing solo. I’ll be stoked if folks stop by.

And during the day, I’m teaching a master class at LACM, where my dear pal Adam Levy oversees the guitar department. The focus is modes — or rather, my irreverent crackpot theories about the most musically profitable ways to regard and use modes. I’ve been kicking around these notions for many years, and I’ll probably adopt them into a tonefiend post soon.

I hope to see some old friends and make some new ones. So don’t be a stranger!