[T. W.: Tedious Guitar Bullshit] The New Signal Path Experiment
So I’m experimenting with the signal chain for my guitar. Here’s how it currently runs, starting with the ‘97 Deluxe Telecaster at the top:
Maxon OD-808 Overdrive I’ve used this box almost exclusively as a clean boost ever since I got it … note that the “overdrive” knob is all the way down, the “balance” knob is all the way up, and then I vary the tone setting as the mood strikes me. This a great way to add punch to a clean guitar sound, and necessary when playing tube amps at a volume below where they really live.
Hardwire DL-8 Digital Delay/Looper I’ve only started really getting used to this box. I’ve mostly used it for extreme effects like samples, reverse loops, and really over the top delays. I am just now beginning to use it for more subtle textural changes. Also, I am really unsure just where in the chain this will end up: for now, I am opting for sampling/manipulating dry signals by putting it up at the start of the chain (though I could use the OD-808 to add some teeth to the signal, if necessary). Ideally, I think I would end up with two samplers in the chain: one here at the beginning, and one closer to the end.
ProCo Rat Distortion Pulled this one out of the mothballs recently, and frankly, it may find its way back there soon. I’m still not enamored by the sound of this box (I prefer my Boss DS-1), but there is one thing it does well: push the Devi Ever Rocket fuzzbox next to it in the chain. I will probably never use the Rat except in conjunction with the Rocket. When the Rat is pushing the Rocket, however, it sounds great: it really focuses and livens up the over-the-top tendencies of the Rocket.
Devi Ever Rocket Fuzz This is actually two Devi Ever fuzzes in one housing: on the right is the Vintage Fuzz Master with its old school octave under sound, on the right is the more modern sounding Soda Meiser with its Big Muff sound driven over the top when you crank it. It also has tremolo and chaos switches, but I haven’t used those yet. I’ve only just started playing with this one, but so far it is incredible. You can use both sides at once, and get an infinite variety of sounds by how you mix the the Volume and Pregain settings on each. It also can give you a lot of different sounds by setting it up and then controlling it with the volume knob on the guitar (set up the SM to where it’s just getting to the unruly state, then dial back the volume on the guitar, and you get a nice warm blanket, for instance). And again, this thing is incredible when you drive it with other pedals, or use it to drive other pedals.
Boss DS-1 Distortion If I will only use the Rat in conjunction with the Rocket, I will most likely use this only by itself. My favorite distortion box. It gives me that “swarm of angry bees” I love so much (it is SO 80’s), but it has much more flexibility and character than the Rat. Doesn’t seem to drive other pedals as well as the Rat does, but when the time comes to cut down on the number of boxes (or replace one of the five distortion/fuzz boxes with some other type of toy), then this will probably replace the Rat early in the chain.
DOD Flashback Fuzz This pedal sounds like shit on its own, but when it’s matched with other effects, it really sings. Used in conjunction with the Rocket, it rounds out and saturates the sound while still remaining aggressive and upfront. There’s a lot of flexibility with the voicing on this one, but I’ve found a setting that I like and I am loathe to change it. I’ve used it for a couple years in conjunction with the OD-808 and the DS-1, and it works great with them, but it really seems made to pair up with the Rocket. This little piece of crap box has become indispensable to me.
Dunlop Cry Baby Wah Pedal I’ve avoided wah pedals my entire life, but my wife got me one for a Valentine’s Day present, and I’m officially having way too much fun with it. My current favorite thing to do is to turn on the OD-808, the Rat, the Rocket, and the Flashback Fuzz, then use the wah pedal to turn it all into white noise. I’m sure I’ll be wearing people out with that in no time. If, over the course of time, I really get to like the wah pedal, I may end up getting one of those tunable wahs made by Real McCoy (the RMC3FL).
I still have to get a decent volume pedal to put at the end of the chain, and I want to try out one of those Digitech Whammys as well. Also, I may try to work in my AIM Distortion box somewhere in the chain … or maybe I’ll create a second chain setup. And yeah, it’s definitely time to break down and get a pedal board.
Gear Porn: My Doc Electro Silvertone 1396 Two Twelve Amp
My amplifier started its life somewhere around 1957-1960 as a Silvertone Model 1396 Two Twelve amplifier.
As with all Sears Silvertone products of the era, it was a combination of good design with ultra-cheap parts to come up with an affordable, usable, but not state-of-the-art solution. This particular amp was a 30 watt model with 2 Jensen 12” speakers and an open back. The speakers were decent (actually much sought after in some circles these days) and the components passable (I’ve had three different Silvertone amps, and have gone through at least five transformers - at least partially my fault, the way I push them - but otherwise they’ve been durable); but the fiberboard cabinets were crap & prone to disintegration, which is why they are somewhat rare these days even though they were common when in production.
Back in the mid to late 80’s I was playing a Silvertone Twin Twelve (different amp; it had a separate head, although the head was hard-wired to the speaker cabinet … Lou Reed used one with the Velvet Underground, and you can see it in a lot of the early VU photos) and I blew the transformer for the second time. A friend had an embarrassment of riches when it came to guitar amps - a couple different pre-1960 Gibsons, a black face Deluxe - so he parted with his Two Twelve for something less than $50. I played it through the early 90’s, when I blew it on stage in Chicago at the Czar Bar on a bill with the Flying Luttenbachers. After that, I switched over to Fenders: first a Twin, then a Bassman head with a 2 15” PA bottom cabinet. I made the switch because 1) Fenders are more reliable and durable, and 2) I wanted to be a LOT louder. I still much prefer the tone of the Silvertone over a Fender, especially since I play a Telecaster, and that Twin/Telecaster sound, as cool as it may be, is so omnipresent.
In the early aughts I had the Bassman and a small, cheap Danelectro solid state amp for practicing. I really wanted an amp somewhere between the two, since I rarely played a room big enough for me to open up the Bassman (not to mention it was/is a major pain in the ass to haul around that PA bottom cabinet). I was still dragging around the carcass of the old Two Twelve, so I decided to see if I could get it up and running again.
I took it Doc Electro in Jeffersonville, IN. I told him to get it up again if he could do it for less than $175. If it was more, he was to call me. A couple days later, he called and gave me a choice: he could “get it making noise again” for about $125, but the fiberboard was rotting and the amp would probably fall apart within a couple months of repair. The other option was that, for $475, he could restore it for me. For reasons still not clear, I chose option B.
Restoration, in this case, meant keeping the original electronics, the original chassis, and pretty much nothing else. He built a cabinet out of white birch to replace the fiberboard. In order to make everything fit, he had to make the cabinet bigger; the design is the same, with the same angles & ratios, just a little bigger to accommodate the birch. He covered that with some pretty swell imitation leather. For the grill cover, I wanted some nice straw-like weave (very 60’s), but he couldn’t make the necessary bends to keep everything as original as possible. Turns out he had some real nice stuff left over from another project that he could use on my amp, and I was happy with that. Note the detail in the photo below: the front baffle, which holds the speakers, is a separate piece of wood (see the seam running across the top front of the amp). Doc wanted to make sure the baffle was independent of the rest of the case, which was how the case was originally designed; so instead of just running the grill cover over the front and fastening it on top, he covered the baffle and top separately, which is why the straw weave wasn’t flexible enough. This guy is serious about details.
The Jensen speakers, unfortunately, were toast. He replaced them with new speakers (sorry, don’t remember what brand) which sound fantastic … I actually like the fact that they add a little tightness to the dark Silvertone sound. He also enclosed the back of the amp, which made the amp even darker with growling low-mids.
The screws that hold the back are set in such a way that the back can be removed and replaced frequently without stripping out the screw holes. That way, you can give the sound of the amp a quick makeover by removing the back for a broader, more diffuse sound that brings back some of the high end. Again, since I almost always use a Telecaster with this amp, I prefer the darker, lower sound with the back on.
Here (and on top) you can also see the original components: the chassis and the control panel. That’s pretty much it. The original handle was useless, and I lost most of the original knobs, but the white chicken-head knobs seem to work with it just fine. The nice little metal panel that went across the bottom of the original (with “two-twelve” in script across it) was unfortunately not salvageable, but he did save the Silvertone logo (top). Doc cleaned up and rewired everything, but the electronics are all original, to the point that he talked me out of installing a standby switch (I honestly don’t remember why, but after five minutes with this guy, I was pretty much just going to tell him “do whatever you want, man” … he obviously knew why I liked the amp, and he knew how to deliver the tone).
So, for under $500, I got an amp that was the equivalent of any boutique amp you care to name. This thing has amazing tone, and sounds great clean (it never gets really clean, like a Fender does) or with tons of distortion. It is durable; I haul it all over the place, and it’s built like a tank. Plus, it sounds unique: it has the darkness of some of the old pre-1960 Gibsons and similar amps, but it has a tightness and punch that those amps don’t. It also sings wide open; but hit it with distortion, and it doesn’t turn into a pile of mud like most of the pre-60 amps; with the closed back, it actually has a tight roar like a darker Super Reverb.
Well, that’s it for the gear porn for now. If you care, I’ve ranted about Silvertones and Fenders elsewhere (the link is to our old band website). Other than that, if you want a good hand-built amp, you HAVE to talk to Doc Electro.
In Rotation: Guitar Stompboxes and Noisemakers
In order, from guitar to amp:
Maxon 808 OD (clean boost) : Boss DS-1 (nasty distortion, with a little more character than a Rat) : Morley volume pedal : Hardwire DL-8 digital delay and looper.
Also in the arsenal
ProCo Rat (late American model) : MXR Distortion + : Digicomp AIM HM-2000 Harmonic Modifier (an amazingly flexible distortion box, allows you to chose between sine and sawtooth wave, among other things) : Boss GE-6 graphic equalizer : DOD Flashback Fuzz
Sony 12-band portable shortwave radio : Sony handheld cassette tape recorder : Buddha Box I : Buddha Box II : The Gristleizer (essentially like a Buddha Box II loaded with Throbbing Gristle loops) : Wisecracks Spanish cursing box (handheld novelty box loaded with samples of four obscene phrases in Spanish) : Behringer Xenyx 1002FX mixer : Tascam Portastudio 424
What I’m saving my pennies for:
Fulltone 70-BC Fuzz : Fulltone Soul Bender : Fulltone OCD : Fulltone CFV-2 : RMC3FL Wah pedal :