I’m not a virtuoso guitarist. You would never see me playing a lead part at a live gig but I am not afraid to lay down anything in the confines of my studio. But even though my chops aren’t that of Pete Thorn, Eric Schenkman, or (insert unknown session player here) and more like the slops of Neil Young and Tom Petty, I love tones.
At a rehearsal and playing live I’m not concerned with pure tone. I’m concerned that the tone sounds like the record. I’m not a purist at all when the atmosphere and acoustics change night to night. In the studio, that’s an entirely different story. In the studio, I’m a tone snob. But there I can afford to be. I have any toys, heads, cabinets, and guitars one could need. Either they are on hand, borrowed from a colleague, or easily rented. I serve the song, always.
On this pedal board pictured above resides the following goodies:
DC BRICK ($119) I’m a fan of the Voodoo Lab Pedal Power Digital when the board has some heavy power suckers like Strymon, Eventide, and TC Electronic pedals. This DC Brick has (7) 9V outputs and (3) 12V outputs.
BOSS TU-2 ($130 if you can find one.) Step on it and your rig goes silent so you can tune your guitar using the display. Seven easy tuning modes include Chromatic, Guitar Regular, Guitar Flat, Guitar Double Flat, Bass Regular, Bass Flat, Bass Double Flat as well as being flexible to set your reference pitch from 438Hz to 445Hz. It has an 8 octave tuning range and can store your preferred display style and mode. Boss has moved on to the TU-3 now and these are becoming more difficult to find except used.
THE LIGHTNING BOY ($119) I’ve had this pedal only a little while and still need to put it through it’s paces but from what I can already tell, it’s a rather clean boost. It’s subtle and tasteful. Inside this deceiving little box is a NOS 12AU7 tube and hand-rolled paper in oil caps. No expense has been spared. It comes with the best warranty available, lifetime, and the paper in oil caps have a 5 year warranty. That’s amazing. Good luck finding a pedal like this at that price.
WOOLHOG ($89 – $179) Price ranges from where you find them and when you find them. This was a custom build clone of the ZVEX WOOLY MAMMOTH. I called it the WOOLHOG since it came without any markings on it. While it’s more intended for added some beef and grit to the bass, I find that it does some wicked lead tones and hairy trichords. I’ve learned that it doesn’t handle complex chords very well and loses a lot of definition when you force it to do so. It’s a beast on bass.
TREMULUS LUNE ($199) This is a boutique kit pedal from the 4ms Pedal family. It has a lot of control features to manipulate the speed, depth, and spacing as well as a “smoothness” knob which changes the waveform. The fine “knob” helps you hone in on an exact tempo. I’m a set it and forget it type of player in the live world but in the studio I find the control to be ultra useful.
ZVEX DISTORTRON ($149) This little pedal is nasty. It’s intended to resemble the tonality of a non-master, Marshal JTM45 with everything on 10. It’s a very versatile pedal, however. I can crank the gain all the way up and the volume down and this allows for me to use the volume knob on my guitar to control the crunch. The subs switch either gives you girth or ringing sustain while the tone knob and drive knob offer the details. Depending on where I put this, either in front of an overdrive or after, the tone is different. I wouldn’t say one is better than the other, just different. On this board, it’s currently after the Lightning Boy and the Woolhog. What’s really cool about this pedal is that it makes me bring out other distortion and overdrive pedals that have been “benched” and creates new opportunity to find tones.
MXR PHASE 90 ($69-$159) Eddie Van Halen owns this tone. Literally, there are Eddie versions out there. If you buy a latest edition Phase 90, you can find it for about $70. If you go back to 1974 and find an authentic one, you’ll pay about $350. There are handwired ones that are based on the 1974 circuits that are about $120. This pedal is typically called, “Van Halen in a box.” While I like the Phase 90 and probably won’t ever get rid of it, I have my eyes on a MuTron Phasor. Another classic phase pedal.
BOSS DD-3 ($139) Just a standard digital delay pedal from Boss. I can adjust the delay time from 12.5ms to 800ms as well as infinite hold, which will repeat indefinitely. It’s a great pedal for the price and it’s fine for the live atmosphere. It gets the job done. The tone is nothing like a great analog delay but it’s a compact, versatile stomp. You’d be surprised how many pros are still using this little stomp even with the plethora of other boutique delays on the market, both analog and digital. I admit, I don’t reach for this in the studio at all. I’ll also be moving this to the bench pretty soon in favor of the Vox DelayLab, Strymon Timeline, and the classic Memory Man. It’s really not fair to even compare them to the DD-3 as it’s not even in the same class.
MESA BOOGIE F30 ($700-$1100 if you can find one.) Mesa Boogie tone in a compact, combo design. It’s perfect, 2 channel amp for rehearsal, small venues, and the studio. It’s loud as hell, even at 30 watts. I find channel 2 to be very versatile giving me thick bluesy tones as well as chimey, ringing tones with a lot of sustain. There’s a footswitch that comes with this that toggles between channels 1 and 2 as well as adding “contour” which is like a rectifier sounding boost. It’s definitely the Mesa Boogie sound. While I actually love 1×12 cabinets and prefer them over larger cabinets for studio use, (thanks Pete Thorn), I actually don’t care for combo amps. I’d rather have a separate head and cabinet. This F30 is all stock. I have not modified it in any way and have no plans to do so.
RICKENBACKER TR7 ($75 if you find one.) Here’s a little gem of an amp. I bought it for the tremelo. What I quickly found is that it’s actually really awesome in the studio offering nice cleans and a very useful distortion. It’s not a loud amp at all which allows for me to crank it up and drive the crap out of it but still be able to be in the same county. It’s also a solid state 1×10 amp, offering a tonality I don’t have. I’m a big fan of Joe Barresi and his approach to tones. There are no hard fast rules to live by and certainly no go to amp for every situation. Surely, if there’s a specific tonality you’re looking for you go get it. But when it comes to finding and using tones others aren’t, that’s where you think outside of the Plexi, Fender, Vox world and start looking at amps like these. I think a lot of less experienced engineers and producers think they always have to reach for the handwired Vox AC30, 57′ Bassman, 65′ JTM 45, or 58′ Tweed and VOILA! there’s there tone. Don’t get me wrong, I would definitely keep those babies in the vault and they would get used. But if I want my sound to be a stand alone, I can’t use what everyone else is using and that’s where an Ampeg Reverb Rocket, this Rickenbacker TR7, or some other amps I’m still gonna keep a secret until a later post.
FENDER TELECASTER AMERICAN STANDARD ($1680 – $1890) I love this guitar. It’s not as versatile as a Stratocaster, but it is the sound that only a Tele can make. It’s a phenomenal studio tool as I can create a nice range of tones and disguise the character of the Tele or I can give in to it. It serves me well for everything rhythm and foundation tracking, even lead, though I still prefer the lead sound from a chunky Les Paul or similar for lead in most cases. I have not modified this guitar at all and have no plans to. I do plan to acquire another Tele American and do a few mods to it. Also on the Fenders I Need to Buy list is a Tele Thinline, Jaguar and Strat, bearing in mind that there are studio guitars and road guitars. They don’t handle the rigors of traveling very well which is why having a few “beaters” for the road and the keeping the precious ones back at the studio.
FENDER STANDARD PRECISION BASS ($775) I grabbed a PBass for 2 reasons. First, its easy to play versus a lot of other basses. Second, it’s probably one of the most common basses used in studios still today. This P Bass is passive and I always run direct to track. I will often reamp the track again and get some air and room while running it through amps and effects, but I ALWAYS get a direct to track take.
This post is already a bit long so I’m going to keep other gear for later rig rundowns. Down the road I’ll show you guitars from Gibson, Epiphone, and Rickenbacker, heads and cabinets from Fender, Marshall, Gibson, Orange, Vox, 65, Suhr, Friedman and pedals by Tone Freak, Carl Martin, Strymon, Tec Amp, Crowther, Pete Cornish, Empress, and lots more…
Got a favorite piece of guitar gear you wanna share? Gotta beef with something? Let ‘er rip!