04 November 2014

Pickups: AUVISA Launches David Allen Pickups in Europe - Demoing DA AlleyCat pickups


David Allen is a top notch Boutique Pickups maker. His pickups have a lot of interest for many reasons but, without any doubt, the most I like is that they deliver outstanding tone with an affordable price (if you compare them to other boutiquers).

My contact with DA pickups was just casual, because one of my Wiring Design Service's customer (now a good friend of mine) wanted to pay my work with a set of DA pickups, which I didn't know at that time.

Things went like good things go and, step by step, DA was sending me some pickups to test and, asked me if I knew of a good Music Store in Spain to distribute his pickups. He was really picky and, didn't wanted a store that just distributes (that moves boxes). He wanted a good Store with knowledgeable people that could give support to customers and, to help them to make their best decision.

Thinking on it, there was just one Spanish Music Store that I was 100% sure that would fit the requirements and, that was Auvisa (http://www.auvisa.com). I had a very good friend of mine that lived close to Auvisa and, that had a lot of contact with them so, I was introduced to Auvisa people and, went there with a couple of guitars, loaded with two different Strato single coil sets (StratCats and Dovers).

We did a short demo, with some backing tracks and, leaved to Rafa (awesome player, full of techniques but, also full of feeling) to test the pickups. He instantaneously understood the goodness of such pickups and, wanted to check commercial conditions.

My role there was just to put both parts in contact and, this should be clear from the beginning: WITH NO COMMERCIAL INTEREST FROM MY SIDE. I've received absolutely not a cent!!!.
I'm just a guitar enthusiasts that loves to share with others what I find specially interesting.

It took a while to have everything sorted and, a bit more to have the opportunity to record some demo video but, everything starts at some point and, this is the official kick off for DA Pickups in Europe!.

This blog's entry is just to let you know that DA Pickups are available in Europe. What means for you?: less lead delivery time, less money (you don't need to pay Customs fees), less shipping fees.

A nice friendship was born after all and, we were always willing to record some demo videos to let the people to get the particular tone of each pickups set. To be honest, my impression is that Rafa (your contact in Auvisa for David Allen Pickups and, anything else related to guitar's world) is able to demo anything at anytime, with attitude and that, I cannot add anything else of value but, He insisted in involve me in video demos and, well, I do anything for friends.

To start, you will find here the review and demo video of one of DA's humbuckers sets, the AlleyCats.

Making of's tales

To doesn't interrupt the regular business, we were forced to make the videos during lunch time. Rafa can be free just that time, while not interrupted by store's customers.

Rafa did choose a Victory The Earl (50W EL34) amp to do the demos of DA AlleyCats pickups.
Auvisa prepared three guitars, with three different sets of DA pickups: a Chinese Tokai loaded with AlleyCats (which sounded gorgeous); a Squier Strato with Voodoo Blues and, I honestly doesn't remember the last one, since we didn't tested it.

I also carried on with my American Charvel SoCal Type 1 loaded with HellCats and, my Luthier and Bassist friend Alex came with his American Fender Precision loaded with a P-Bass and a J-Bass pickups.

Even that we were trying everything, just the first hours were productive and, therefore, we are just going to introduce, as the very first video, those AlleyCats in a Tokai.

To record the event, we used two cams. First is a Zoom Q2HD device (because its sound recording) and a Sony HandyCam (to get a different visual point of view).

To edit the video, we used Sony Vegas 12 Pro software and, only two audio plugins were used for the sound, IK Multimedia's Classic Compressor and Brickwall Limiter. The idea was to bring back the loudness heard in the room but, without compressing the original sound and, avoiding overlay audio events, to provide the sound as close as possible to the one you would hear in the room.

There is no further audio post-processing. No EQ, Exciter or any other kind of outboard or in-a-box plugin.

Also no Noise-Gate. If the amp was hissing, the hiss is there. If pickups were hauling, the haul is there.

This is how I approach every video, trying to be accurate to the original sound in the room, with its good and bad things.

David Allen AlleyCats

Well, in this video you will hear AlleyCats under drive situations. You would usually expect to hear them in clean and, to be honest, we missed this important part of the demo but, for you to be quite, every DA Pickup sounds awesome in clean and, AlleyCats aren't an exception. I'm quite sure you will find some other videos that will let you  hear AlleyCats that way.

My personal impression is that AlleyCats can be classified under the title of Vintage-Hot PAF pickups.

Neck pickup is wooffier than a Vintage PAF. It sounds very guttural and vocalish. with a darker nature than the bridge pickup. Basses are fat and rich but, well defined.

Bridge pickup has an awesome bite, with well represented middle and high frequencies but, never going harsh or ice-picky, a very fair bridge pickup.

Both pickups complement really good and, you don't need to alter your amp's EQ to prioritize one over the other. Both take gain with ease and have a nice sustain,while maintaining note-to-note definition. But, the amount of gain they can take is limited. Beginning at certain spot of gain, they can start to squeal.

I don't see these pickups ready for Hi Gain territory, because of the squealing issues but, those completely cover anything, from Vintage to Medium Gain and, sound awesome in Blues, Rock and Hard Rock applications. In LPs they are just perfect.

Well. Stop talking. Just hear the video below and judge by yourself. Enjoy it (well, what Rafa does, forget myself).

21 September 2014

Pedals: ISP Technologies G-String Decimator


Note: this entry was already published in my old Spanish version of this blog, around January 2012. I'm translating it here.

During the tests I did with my pedalboard based in Mad Professor's range of pedals, the level of the floor noise raised really high.
I've checked first the ISP Decimator pedal, trying to get rid of the noise but, such a pedal, completely removed the noise but with the drawback of destroy the tail of my sounds (decay).

Every noise gate directly affects sound's dynamics. As a compressor works over volume peaks, noise gates work as a downstream compressor, pushing to zero the signals below threshold's value.

Most noise gates are real tone-suckers, not just affecting artificially to the decay of the notes but, even modifying the character or the sound, making it sharper, hollow or altering its frequential content.

ISP Technologies' noise gates are well known as, probably, the most transparent and natural noise gates available.

The Decimator works just over a single spot in your chain of effects and, it seems to be enough if you have very few gain pedals.
But, the G-String seems to work way better in longer chains, where the Decimator isn't able to do the same work.

After discovering myself that the Decimator version isn't enough for my needs and, after reading some good reviews about the G-String. I decided to go ahead with the G-String.
I've tested it and, this is all about this blog's entry: my impressions with the G-String.


This pedal comes perfectly packed and with an user's manual short but good enough.
It looks as sturdy as his "little brother", the Decimator.
When you look at pictures, its size could seem similar to a Boss pedal but, is bigger in every dimension.
The swap of the battery is so comfortable as in Boss pedals. Practical. There is no need for a screwdriver.
It seems to have an iron core inside, because it weights considerably, like the Decimator.

Externally, it looks like the same as the Decimator. Differences can be found in the jacks. This pedal has 4 jacks, 3 on its right side (Guitar In, Guitar Out, Dec IN) and 1 on its left side (Dec Out).

As in the case of the Decimator, there is just a single control (Threshold). There are no other controls to fine tune the attack, door delay, compression level, etc.

Using it

While the Decimator seemed to work better at the end of the gain pedals, the G-String is the first and last pedal in the "protected" chain of pedals.

The idea is more or less like follows: the guitar will be connected to Guit In; the Guit Out goes to the first pedal to be "protected" and then, from the last pedal in the protected chain we go to the Dec In input. From Dec Out we go to the amp or to the first pedal unprotected before the amp's input.

So, I've put inside the protected chain from the Wah to the Fuzz and, out of protection, reverberation and delay.

Alternatively, you can link the output of the Fx loop to Dec In and, the input of the Fx loop to Dec Out.

G-String seems to analyze the original signal (the one coming by Guit In) and, it proportionally adjusts the noise level inside the protection loop (Dec In to Dec Out).

User's manual points you to select the threshold level with the guitar plugged and no other effect pedal active, just to remove the floor noise coming from your pickups and the cable between your guitar and the G-String.

My tests say that this works really nice in clean but, that you have to fine tune the threshold once your noisy gain pedals are being switched on.
What I did instead was to switch on the noisiest of my pedals, leaving the strings open and untouched and, gently working on the threshold until the floor noise disappeared.

Results were... IMPRESSIVE !!!

Same operation with the Decimator doesn't works. If I set the threshold level to get rid of the floor noise that the fuzz introduces and, I switch on one more gain pedal before, the noise level raises and the gate opens, creating some intermittencies.

With the G-String, just to test it in depth, I was able to switch off EVERY gain pedal simultaneously and, after mutting the strings, the sound and noise completely quieted.

In the negative side is the decay of the sound. While with chords everything seems to work fine, I had some issues with some sustained bendings and, while doing a vibrato while bending.
In those cases, sometimes the gate is being triggered and the tail of the sound suddenly deads.
Paradoxically, maintaining same threshold in clean, it doesn't seem to affect the continuity and natural character of the sound. The Decimator, with same Threshold affected really hard the dynamics of the clean sound.


I don't know of a better noise gate, in a pedal format. I don't mean that there is no better, just that I don't know any better one.

Before going for the G-String, I was visiting lots of forums where there were discussing about the few noise gates available and, it seemed that the MXR Noise Clamp didn't worked so good and, that the Boss NS2 was a tone-sucker.

If you are doubting between the Decimator or the G-String, I will tell you: G-String!, no doubt!.
This one REALLY works.

Demo video

An image worths more than thousand words and, in our case, a sound more than thousand words.
In the following video I am doing a comparison of the two pedals by ISP, the Decimator and the G-String Decimator.
I think the video is very helpful and will clearly see the different behaviour of both pedals.
Don't miss it!.

17 September 2014

Pedals: ProCo RAT Whiteface reissue


Note: this entry was already published in my old Spanish version of this blog, around March, 2012. I'm just reproducing it here because it can be of interest to someone.

I am quite sure that any guitarist that is searching his/her distortion pedal, probably checked at least one of the pedals belonging to the RAT family (ProCo is the builder).

Even that this is one of the very old designs, the RAT family grows from time to time with the addition of a new member. Currently, there are several ProCo pedals, all based in the original RAT but, incorporating some modifications to cover the needs of RAT users.

You should probably know already that the RAT pedal's design was based in the MXR Distortion+ but, the original design was modified to increase the gain, among some other sonic differences.

Some time ago, I've purchased a Chinese RAT 2, which has a bit more gain than the traditional RAT. And, it seems to be one of the classic distortion tones that I like more.

I wanted to check the differences between the cheap version (RAT 2) and the expensive RAT Whiteface reissue, since it seems that the last one was built with a selection of components closer to the original unit. Specially, the IC is the same as the original one.


This pedal was built in a very sturdy box.
Pots have a nice touch, not loose, not tight.
As in the case of the original, there is no LED that can inform you if the unit is switched on.
This is a true-bypass unit so, it doesn't affects the tone of your rig when switched off.

At the bottom of the pedal, there is a metallic door for the battery, with a big screw (that can be handled with the hand with ease). The issue I see is that such a screw is so big that it a mess to insert the pedal in my pedalboard.

Externally, the pedal looks like the RAT 2, with very few differences (pots, battery door' screw and the logo). The most important differences are inside, in the circuit.

An advertising shirt comes as a gift with this pedal.

Testing the pedal

I can just establish direct comparison with the RAT 2, since I've got no other ProCo RAT deriveds.

Respect to the RAT 2, the Whiteface has clearly less gain (a booster or a transparent overdrive before can be a good thing). The sound is similar but, the WF sounds a tad more refined, less processed than the RAT 2. The RAT 2 sounds a tad more raspy and wild.

So, there is not that big difference between the expensive and the cheap but, I prefer the sound of the WF.

While the RAT 2 has a lot of drive with volume and gain knobs really low, in the WF you need to increase more the volume to be able to make the distortion and filter knobs to deliver a similar response as in the Rat 2.

But, once you get the sweet spot of the three knobs (Volume, Distortion and Filter), to hear the neck pickup around the 12th fret is fantastic, generating a nice vocalish, guttural sound.

A light touch of a booster or clean overdrive before this pedal can help to get the best from the WF.
I am using the Xotic EP Booster before, just to meat the body of the Strato, before it reaches the WF.
I was setting the booster level while the WF was switched on, to get the best interaction between both pedals.

This pedal seems to work better with humbuckers than with single coils so, the extra gain that the booster gives to the single coils definitively help to get better results from the WF.

Additionally to this slight increase of transparent gain (that couldn't be necessary with pickups with a hotter output), the tone and grain of the distortion can be modified stacking some coloring overdrive before (OCD, TS808, etc.). In this way, you can achieve a more dense and sustained sound, with a color slightly different.

Wah, Phaser and Compressor work really fine before this pedal.
A excessive reverb or delay effect after, could "wash" the sound too much, pushing the sound back in the mix space and, stolling part of its energetic sound.

16 September 2014

Wiring DIY: Hermetico's HH X61 SD mod


Guitar Modded

LP-body with two Humbuckers but, only two controls: master volume and master tone.


  • HH layout, 4 conductors pickups
  • Two Triple Shot rings (Seymour Duncan)
  • 1 Swiftcraft 3-way switch (pickups selector)
  • 1 Master Volume and 1 Master Tone, both with pull/push
  • 1 4PDT on/on switch (blower-switch)

Difficulty Level



  • With all switches off, it provides standard HH tones but, with a single master volume and a single master tone.
  • Volume pot's pull/push switch is being used to put the Neck pickup Out-of-Phase (when the bridge pickup is also selected) and, reverses the split coil (if split).
  • Tone pot's pull/push switch is being used to put both pickups in series (independently of if they are split or with coils in parallel). It overwrites every position of the 3-way (so, you get the same combo in Treble / Middle / Rythm).
  • Triple shots are able to deliver following combinations for each pickup: split north, split south, coils in series and coils parallel, depending on the position of the two micro-switches on the ring.
  • Finally, the 4PDT on/on switch wants to be a "blower" switch (name often used for a feature that allows you to directly with your bridge humbucker, usually bypassing all switching system and controls). In this case, the user wanted to go for bridge full-humbucker but, thru master volume and tone, overwriting the rest of switches in this design.

Wiring Diagram

Click on the picture for full size.


Notes: white wires are being represented in light-blue and, bare wires in grey. Pickup's wire colors follow Seymour Duncan' schema.

The requester for this design was a Seymour Duncan's forum mate, who already had a working solution based in a couple of triple-shots and a serializer and phaser switches.
He wanted to introduce a blower switch, in a way that he could bypass both triple shot rings' switching, both pull/pushes and, the 3-way. He wanted to run the bridge pickup in full humbucker mode but, thru volume and tone controls (not a direct-out, as often is being requested).

There was a discussion saying that this blower switch couldn't be done with just a 4PDT on/on switch and that, a 6-poles switch would be necessary.

I had the impression that it could be done with just a 4PDT on/on switch and, wanted to go into design, achieving a working solution.

The big issue on this design is the Triple Shot system, since it's some kind of black-box, where the switching occurs in background. The inputs for the Triple Shot are the 4 conductor wires of its respective pickup. The outputs of the Triple Shot are a couple of wires (positive-white and, negative-black).

Internally, this is what happens:
  • Coils in series (standard humbucker): green to negative (black), red and white linked together, black to positive (white).
  • Coils in parallel: green and white to negative (black), red and black to positive (white).
  • Split to South: green, white and red to negative (black), black to positive (white).
  • Split to North: green to negative (black), white, red and black to positive (white).
Depending on what do you want to do after coils arrangement selected by the Triple Shot, you should ground the negative wire (black) or not.

In the case of neck pickup, we want to do an out-of-phase if the volume pull/push is up so, we cannot ground the negative before this happens. But, since the negative of the neck pickup could be put in series with the positive of the bridge pickup, when the tone pull/push is up, we cannot ground neck's negative until the serializer switch.
That's why in that phaser switch (tone pull/push), we are just deciding with of the two wires (negative-black, positive-white) will definitively be assigned to pickup's positive-orange, negative-dark green.

In the serializer switch, neck's negative (dark green) goes to ground (if the switch is off) or it's being linked to bridge's positive (white).

The tricky part is all related to the bridge pickup. If that blower switch wasn't there, we would just solder bridge's wires to their respective lug of the Triple Shot and, from there, we would run the positive (white) and negative (black) wires to the serializer, before to decide what goes to the 3-way switch, for pickups selection.

But the blower concept obliges us to route pickup's conductor wires first to the blower switch and, only if the blower is off, from that switch to its Triple Shot ring and rest of switching system.

Another issue introduced with this particular blower concept is that we need to choose between two different sources (whole switching system or just the bridge pickup) as input for the volume and tone controls so, at least, we need one pole to choose what to run to volume's input.

In principle, to completely bypass the bridge's triple shot, we would need 4 poles, one for each pickup's wire. This and and additional pole we need for volume's input makes 5 poles and therefore, this is where the discussion about doing it with a 6 poles switch comes from.

But, If we think on it twice, bridge's green wire will be always ground, directly when the blower is on but, thru the negative of the triple shot when the blower is off, also.
Read above the description of what happens inside the Triple Shot and, you will realize that the green input is always linked to the negative (black) output.

Therefore, I can solder the pickup's green directly to the Triple Shot and, since the rest of wires will never go to their inputs if the blower is on, I'm sure the only thing that will happens inside the triple shot is that the green wire will be always linked to the negative wire, which I have to always ground, in any case. That frees one of the poles and, allows me to play with a 4PDT on/on switch, instead of going for a 5PDT or a 6PDT (usually, rotaries).

Now, let's focus in the blower switch.
Red, white and black wires from bridge pickup go to their own poles (common lug, center lug on each column). When the switch is off (upper lugs, on diagram), each wire is effectively linked to their respective inputs on the Triple Shot, allowing the whole switching system.
But, when the switch is on (lower lugs on diagram), we avoid to send those wires to the triple shot and, we jumper white and red together (to put coils in series) and, we link pickup's output (black) to the input of the volume-tone-jack network.

Last pole is volume-tone-jacks input (in pink). We will choose between the output from the 3-way (upper lug, when switch is off) and the output from bridge pickup alone (lower lug, when switch is on).

Some additional comments.
Since the blower is being implemented with a 4PDT on/on switch, this solution is easily portable to a Fender HH Stratocaster and, we can use Fender's S-1 volume/switch for that blower switch, with will leave us a classy design, without altering the look of the axe.

15 September 2014

Pedals: Carl Martin Octaswitch MKII


Note: this is an entry previously posted in my old Spanish version of this blog, around December 2012. Pedals loaded in my pedalboard had changed a lot but, the illustration of some uses of the Carl Martin Octaswitch MKII are still valid.

In a previous entry, I've already described the Carl Martin Octaswitch MKII and its multiple (but limited) possibilities. After several re-configurations of my pedalboard, looking for the best utility, I've reached some compromise solution, which I would like to share with you all.

The Octaswitch allows you to combine up to 8 simultaneous effects in series and, send them up to two amps (two mono outputs) or, an stereo amp and, even to change the channel of up to two amps (or two channels of a single amp), when you select one of the 8 available banks.

The issue is that you have just 8 banks, or combinations. If we think on clean, clean with chorus, clean with vibe, clean with compressor, clean with vibe and compressor, blues, classic distortion, hi gain distortion, fuzz, fuzz with vibe, distortion with compressor, etc., we can see that the number of combinations we can need for a cover band can be a lot more than the 8 available in the Octaswitch.
So, there is no other way than to find a compromise solution that can be of real help.

After a lot of thinking, I've considered that the best approach was to leave inside the Octaswitch the different gain pedals, selecting different gain textures for each bank, from clean to extreme distortion and, keeping out the Octaswitch all those pedals that I consider as sound modifiers: filters, modulations, time effects, compressor, booster, etc.

Therefore, I could define the following banks:

  1. Clean
  2. Blues Overdrive
  3. Clean Overdrive
  4. Classic Distortion
  5. Modern Distortion
  6. Fuzz
  7. Extreme Fuzz
  8. Total Chaos

Assigning different combinations of gain pedals inside the Octaswitch.

Before the Octaswitch I would place the Tuner, the Wah, the Phaser, the Booster and Compressor and, after the Octaswitch, the Modulation and Time effects, by example.

Pedals connexion scheme

Please, click on the picture for a full size image.


All these pedals are True Bypass and, none was identified as a Tone-sucker.

The OCD presents some impendance issues, depending on which pedal goes before or after but, in this particular case creates no conflict with any pedal.

The Wah, even that base in an old design (Picture Wah) is "fuzz-friendly".

Mad Professor Red Fire Fuzz corresponds to a modern design and, therefore, I can freely place it in any position of the chain but, I've found it working better at the end of the chain pedals.

Even that the booster (Xotic EP Booster) and the Compressor (Mad Professor Forest Green Compressor) can be considered as gain pedals, I am leaving those out of the loops because of the considerations I will describe when talking about each pedal in detail.

If we follow the flow from the guitar's input, we can see that the first pedal in the chain is the tuner (TC Electronics Polytune). This pedal is True Bypas and, as soon as you switch it on, it shut ups the whole chain, allowing you to just tune your guitar. Being True Bypass and not a tune-sucker, you could put it at any place in the chain but, it makes more sense to me to leave it at the very beginning, to completely shut up the rig (it works as a master switch).
In any case, the pedals type signal-followers (that requiere a clean signal to work their best), as the tuner, filters or whammy, are best placed at the beginning of the chain.

The output of the tuner goes to the Guitar In input of the noise gate (ISP Decimator G-String).
The noise game gets its input signal as a reference to correct the noise that will come (increased by gain pedals) back thru its Dec In input.

The guitar's input is directly linked to the Guit Out output, which we can see that goes to the input of the first pedal that we want to protect with the noise gate: the Wah.

The output of the Octaswitch (combination of one or more gain pedals, depending on the bank) is linked to the Dec In input of the noise gate, which closes the loop of the set of pedals protected by the noise gate.
The input in Dec In is being analyzed and contrasted against the input Guit In, to remove the noise, taking into account the original signal.
Once the noise was filtered in Dec In, the signal goes out the noise gate thru the output Dec Out, which in this case was connected to the input of the Delay effect (which is out of the protection of the noise gate, to don't cut echoes' tails).

Following the natural signal flow. We go from the tuner to the noise gate and, from the noise gate to the Booster (Xotic EP Booster). Since the booster is a gain pedal, it generates (well, just increases) the floor noise and, therefore, it makes sense that it remains under the protection of the noise gate.
I'm using here the EP booster just to feed the current intensity to make the stratocaster to sound a tad beefer. The boost knob never goes beyond 9:00.

The output of the Booster goes to the input of the Wah (Real McCoy RMC4 Picture Wah).
Theoretically, the Wah should be the first pedal in the chain but, I've already mentioned that this Wah has very few impedance problems so, I prefer to boost a bit the signal with the booster before and, to provide electrons enough to the rest of the chain.
Anyway, the Wah is usually switched off and, I only use it together with gain for certain parts.
It makes no sense to include it in Octaswitch loops since, I want to be free of activate it with any of the different gain textures (clean, overdrive, distortion, fuzz...).

The output of the Wah is connected to the input of the Phaser (Mad Professor Tiny Orange Phaser).
Even that a phaser is a modulation pedal and, its theoretical natural position would be after gain pedals and before delay, I find it sounding better before gain pedals.
Additionally, phaser creates some swatch white noise that can be only be eliminated if it is under the protection of the noise gate.

After the Phaser, we have the compressor (Mad Professor Forest Green Compressor). We are still out of the Octaswitch but, inside the protection of the noise gate.
Compressors have two natural positions, at the beginning of the chain (to compress the natural dnamics and add some sustain); or at the end of the chain, to compress the already processed sound.
I prefer it at the beginning of the chain in a pedalboard and, at the end with studio gear.
Compressor significatively raise the floor noise of the signal and therefore, it makes sense to put them under the protection of the noise gate.
Before filtering pedals (Wah...) and modulations (phaser...), it increases a lot the signal, giving a great strenght to the effect.
Placed after filters and modulations, it helps to better control the dramatic peaks of effects with a great range of frequencies, as the Phaser, Wah or Flanger, delivering a more consistent signal to the pedals after it.

With compressor, I am ending the chain of pedals before the input of the Octaswitch.
The output of the compressor goes to the input of the Octaswitch.

In the loop of the Octaswitch I've place 4 gain pedals, to achieve different gain textures.
In the first loop, I've got a classic bluesy overdrive (Mad Professor Little Green Wonder), similar to a TS808.

In the second loop, a more modern Overdrive, more general (Fulltone OCD V3).
In previous tests, I've realized that the Little Green Wonder likes more to drive other pedals than to be driven by other pedals. If it gets a strong input from other pedal, it saturates too much, compressing the sound.
The OCD handles better this kind of previous saturation.

In the third loop, a classic distortion pedal: the ProCo RAT Whiteface (reissue).

In the fourth loop, a modern fuzz, the Mad Professor Fire Red Fuzz.

Those 4 pedals allow several combinations:




* Fuzz

* LGW -> OCD

* LGW -> RAT

* LGW -> Fuzz

* OCD -> RAT

* OCD -> Fuzz

* LGW -> OCD -> RAT

* LGW -> OCD -> Fuzz

* OCD -> RAT -> Fuzz

* LGW -> OCD -> RAT -> Fuzz

Evidently, there are more available combinations that switches (banks) in the Octaswitch so, there isn't more option than to choose just 8 from those.
But, once the 8 gain textures were selected, we can open the sonic palette by adding any of the other sound modifiers that are out of the Octaswitch:

* Wah

* Phaser

* Compresor

* Wah -> Phaser

* Wah -> Compresor

* Phaser -> Compresor

* Wah -> Phaser -> Compresor

Sure, this obliges you to some feet dance (if you need more than one modifier at once) but, since those are often used for certain "accents" or "details", they effectively multiply the possibilities of the 8 gain textures already chosen.

Remember that the Octaswitch has one more additional switch called Bypass that, will link its input with its output, bypassing all the loops and, therefore, you can consider that Bypass as your "clean channel", having 8 gain textures additionally to your clean channel.

From the Octaswitch, we exit by one of the two mono exits to the input Dec In of the G-String, therefore closing the loop of pedals under the protection of the noise gate. Therefore, we will have protected (when active) the following pedals: booster, wah, phaser, compressor, overdrives, distortions and fuzz.

Finally, from the G-String we go to the input of the delay (Mad Professor Deep Blue Delay) and, we reach the amp thru the exit of such a delay.
The delay stays out of the protection of the noise gate, to avoid to cut the echoes' tails.

Thanks to the excellent behaviour of the G-String, this is enough to set the Threshold while in clean (no active pedal), up to your floor noise disappears. It doesn't matter which pedal will be active after this setting, the G-string will magically get rid off any noise.

Of course, there are infinite ways to use the Octaswitch but, you will always have to decide about just 8 possibilities. In my case, this solution is "the best" for my needs but, your imagination and needs can lead you to a very different set of solutions (that you could share!).

Where am I?

Where am I?

Long time I am not posting in my blog. It could seem I am not interested in guitarist stuff anymore but, nothing farest of real thing.

I had some personal troubling waters, specially related to my job. I'm just one more of the employees, resulting of this deep crisis. So, excuse me if I am kissing the sky.
Holidays took their time, also.

But, parallely to that bad stuff, I had great things in my guitarist's life.

I'm actively collaborating with David Allen. He was so kind to send me several sets of his pickups to test and, I have to admit that those are the best pickups I've ever tested and, I would recommend it to every tone-lover, with the eyes closed.
I'm doing wiring designs for his own customers and, this is something I love to do.

I've put in contact a Spanish store (Auvisa) with DA, to create the first store in Europe that is allowd to sell David Allen' stuff (pickups and pedals). Don't miss Auvisa offer. Get your DA pickups there, if you are in Europe!!!.
I'm doing this for love to DA' stuff. I'm not receiving a single cent. But, I love to push what really surprises me.

Thru David Allen, I knew about Southern Bell Guitars and, I had to order my dreamed customized guitar, which I hope will become my number one. But, this will come in around 3 months so, I have to wait for a while.

I'm also in the project of doing some demo videos about David Allen pickups, at Auvisa. Something that should happen very soon.

In the meanwhile, I bought a Fender Bassman LTD (for which I will open a new post) and, I am still dealing with it. I would probably swap the Jensen P10R speakers. I'm sorry but, new Jensen's never cut the mix. They sound awesome alone but, they simply don't cut the mix. I've got 4 Celestion Gold ready to mount in that Bassman.
I've already bought a re-tubing set from Watford Valves, with NOS JAN/Philips 6L6WGB tubes and, tested several alternatives for V1 (12AX7, 5751 and 12AY7).
So, I've got a lot to talk about this amp, also but, I still need some time to get the whole picture.

Finally, I've got two new pedals from Strymon, the BlueSky (Reverb) and the Ola (chorus and vibrato). I've found the Möbius too complex and, I prefer the more user-friendly formats of the El Capistan, BlueSky and Ola, instead.
Something that will need one or two more entries in my blog.

Well, that's a short note to let you know that I'm still active and testing stuff and, that I will post something else when I am more familiar with all these new stuff so, keep in tune!.
Rock in!.

Pedals: Mesa Boogie drive pedals


I've ended with the four pedals that Mesa Boogie is offering, without taking into account the EQ pedal and, drive pedals with EQ versions.

I've already said that I was highly surprised with the quality and tone of those pedals, while accidentally testing them in a shop.

Currently, those are my gain pedals, for every style and, I would like to share my impressions about each one.

Let's go...

Mesa Boogie Gain Pedals

Here you are an overall picture of my current pedalboard (could change tomorrow, you know!).
Just click on images for full size.

And, a detailed view of the four Mesa Boogie's.

I'm running this pedalboard plugged to a Fender Bassman LTD, because I prefer a great clean channel than a complex front-ended amp, with several channels.

As you can see, the entry point is the tuner, which is true bypass.
Second pedal is the Wampler Decibel+ buffer/booster and, it's there just because I've got a very fluctuant mains power and, I need that booster to correct the current intensity, depending on the day.
It never goes beyond 8:00 o'clock. The buffer helps me to drive the rest of pedals, because signal drops with a large pedalboard.

After the Decibel+, the Wah (maybe I should put the Decibel+ after it) and, following the wah, the compressor and the vibe. This is just what is before the four MB's.
After MB's, a Modulation pedal (mainly used for Chorus) and a Delay pedal.

Tone Burster

Probably the pedal you will never choose, since it seems to do nothing, right?.
Well, I see the Tone Burster as some kind of good Xotic EP Booster, with complete control over Treble and Bass frequencies.
When I tweak my pedalboard, I first directly plug the guitar to the amp, tweak the EQ and hear.
Then, I plug the guitar to the pedalboard, adjust output level with the Decibel+ (same as directly plugged) and then, I switch on the Tone Burst to help to get the same tone I had directly plugged.
Sometimes, it means to add or remove some highs or lows.

I set up the gain just to produce a nice beam of electrons, without affecting the tone.
But, you could use this pedal to really push your pre-amp, as any good clean overdrive could do.
It's up to you.
My take is just to use it to restore what it was lost or altered from the input of my guitar to the input of the gain pedals.

This pedal could bring you a good amount of gain and, even hot your pre-amp without issues.
But, since the rest of MB's are in the chain, I prefer discrete settings for it.

Grid Slammer

Well, this seems to be MB's own take of a Tube Screamer but, somewhat more open and detailed.
To get TS tones, you would need to roll off the Tone knob.
I am using it for Smoking cleans and also as a must-have pedal to drive the Flux Drive, which complements really nicely.
Together with the Flux Drive, it delivers great Marshalish tones, very old school tones for great classy Hard Rock stuff.
Alone, it gives you that presence and light break of the TS and, drives your pre-amp section as good.

This is probably the only pedal I could substitute with any other good light overdrive, like Wampler Euphoria, TS, David Allen Bazooka, Timmy, Jetter Jetdrive, etc.
When pushed hard and used together with the Flux Drive, the feedback in your amp is high.
I also find it as cutting the sustain, if the gain control isn't rolled in enough.

Flux Drive

It seems to be a Marshallish tone but, a tad dark and, mimes MB's Mark IV amps.
Alone, has its use and, I use it for certain driven sounds (as some dirty blues) but, I love it specially when is being pushed by the Grid Slammer (or any TS alike pedal).
A TS pedal before fills the slightly recessed mids of this pedal, helping it to better cut the mix.
Grid Slammer and Flux Drive together, at reasonable gain, instantaneously give you Deep Purple's sound, by example (among many other classic Hard Rock tones).
In any case, their active tones will allow you to better shape the frequential content of this pedal.
A very good classic gain pedal.

Throttle Box

Ha ha ha. Here is where MB's hi gain tones live.
The Mids Cut control allows you to shape the overall frequential content of this pedal and, it's naturally dark, dense and sustained.
I prefer it more open and then, the Mid's cut is barely totally rolled off and, the tone knob is around 2:00h, for a better cut.
It provides infinite sustain and all that wall of sound that you needed for liquid hi gain solos.
This pedal is made with two PCBs (I've never seen a more complexer gain pedal before!) so, you can imagine the amount of Electronics Engineering behing it.
Absolutely, a keeper. My hi gain tones are coming from this pedal.
If you overdo it, the sound can be too much compressed but, the good thing is that this pedal covers anything you need in hi gain drive. I prefer it to Weehbo Bastard, to Wampler Triple Wreck, to Bogners, etc.
I love it.

Final comments

Gain pedals are, probably, the most swapped pedals on a pedalboard and, I am not an exception.
I've went along with all the classic (TS, DS-1, SD-1, RAT, Distortion+) and most of boutique (Wampler, Xotic, Mad Professor, Fulltone, Bogner, Jetter, MI Audio, ...).
Nowadays, MB's are my preferred ones. Maybe, I like Jetter's for classier tones with kranked amps but, MB's allow me to get nice tones at lower levels.
If you are in the market for a good set of gain pedals, don't forget to try those in your store.

Maybe, I will have some time to demo this pedals, some day...
Rock in!.

Accessories: Evidence Audio Monorail + SIS plugs system


As it happens when you try to download a file from Internet, where the weakest (the narrower band width) node in the net sets your maximum speed, the worst gear in your rig sets your sound quality.

I've already did some fair guitar cable comparison long time ago and, there were two cables that were identified on the top of the pyramid: Evidence Audio The Lyric II and Vovox Sonorus.

Some time ago, I've also tried EA Monorail cable but, with George L's jacks, since EA stated that they were compatible. My experience said the opposite. Monorail doesn't easily fits George L's jacks and, combining both is a waste of time.

But, here we are the SIS plug system, which is somewhat similar to George L's system but, easier, faster and tighter.

Monorail and SIS plug system

The Monorail cable is really thin and, very interesting for pedalboard patchcords (as George L's are, indeed). Monorail has the quality sound of EA' stuff: not coloring the signal, good punch and strength, good noise rejection, no microphonics issues...

The SIS plugs are even easier to handle than George L's ones and, while I had to redo several times George L's, because they internally disconnected while playing, after several months of use, I had not a single issue with SIS plugs. Once plugged, they seem to create a tight link.

The small size of SIS plugs' head allows you to create really short patch cords.

As in the case of George L's, the issue isn't the cable (reasonably affordable) but, the price of jacks. But, as in the case of George L's jacks, SIS jacks will last the rest of your life so, it's just an investment that could be re-used as many times as needed.

During my cable tests, George L's cables where coloring the signal in middle-low frequencies and delivering great punch. Monorail seems to deliver an even EQ signal, in the line of EA products.

Look at these pics:

As you can see, the Monorail is so thin and the heads of the SIS plugs so small that, allow you to stack pedals really close in your pedalboard and, to minimize the length of  your patch cords and, collaterally, the length of the virtual cable that goes from your guitar to your amp, thru the pedalboard.

To mount a patch is a childs game, as soon as you have some wire cutter tool.

If you still doesn't have a solution for your patchcords in the order of George L's or SIS, I highly recommended you Evidence Audio Monorail with SIS plugs. If you had issues with George L's disconnecting from time to time (I had it!!!), maybe is time for you to try EA SIS system with Monorail.

I love the results, after several months. Not a single issue.

06 May 2014

Pedals: testing Mesa Boogie Grid Slammer and Flux Drive at home


In my previous entry, I've explained that I was in a Store to intensively check three Mesa Boogie pedals and, that I went home with two of them: Grid Slammer and Flux Drive.

Being my amp a Fender Hot Rod III Deville and, being tested those pedal with a fair Fender Bassman reissue, I just wanted to confirm today that those pedals would work as good with my Deville.

Close to the end of my tone quest

Lots of pedals sleep on my shelves and, I am crazy trying to decide my final pedalboard to sell everything there. Mesa Boogie pedals deliver everything I've always wanted in drive tones and, this time I'm 100% sure.

I was playing at home today, with some backing tracks and, felt really inspired with the sound of my rig. Even my arm's hairs where reacting to my own playing and, this means a lot to me.

Taking into account that I will get some extra payment at the end of this month, I was unable to wait. I had to order the two other Mesa Boogie's pedals: the Tone Burster and the Throttle (which I've already tested in the store). Still not clear about the Tone Burster, since I didn't tested it in the store but, reading its description, it could be a good-to-have, to give a more vintage color to the rest of the rig, when needed.

I'm waiting also my David Allen's Bazooka overdrive and, maybe only one of those or, maybe both will survive on my pedalboard.

But, to me, the tail of the pedalboard is very clear: Mesa Boogie's pedals for drive, Strymon Mobius for modulation effects and Strymon El Capistan for Tape Echo delays.

On pedalboard's head, just the Wampler Decibel+ is a keeper.
I am still looking for a wah that can work really fine with the "fixed" pedals and, the Dunlop Bonamassa definitively doesn't does the job. It has a very narrow sweep and, doesn't seem to interact efficiently with the rest of my pedalboard.

Other pedal that I want to swap is the TC Electronics Polytune, since I am suspecting that is a Tone sucker and, that the True Bypass isn't that true. I want to throw there a Peterson strobo box.

I am considering to unload the Dry Bell Machine Vibe, since the Mobius can do very decent Vibe tones (among a ton of other great modulation effects).

Also, I will check if the compressor (Wampler Ego) works fine with the new pedalboard.

The only I have clear today is that Mesa Boogie's pedals where made for me and I was made for those pedals. And, that they work flawless with my two Strymon and the Decibel+ and, those are my pedalboard's foundational pedals.

Once I've got the four Mesa Boogie pedals at home and, I am familiarized with them, I will do a video review.

I want to death to sell the rest of my pedals, once the pedalboard is well established. But, even without the vibe, compressor, wah and the remaining MB's pedals, I have enough tone to enjoy playing, something that didn't happened to me for a long time. I am considering also to sell the rest of my amps, since I'm really happy with the tones I can get out of the retubed Deville.

05 May 2014

One more day in guitarists heaven - intensive pedal, pickups and amp testing


It seems that we, guitarists, are always in the market for a more exciting gain pedal, a better overdrive, a better distortion, a better fuzz, a better compressor...
In early days there was really few choices so, the search could end really fast.

Nowadays, among the very well established pedal companies, there is an explosion of boutique pedal makers and, everybody seems to sell the ultimate gain unit, to discover that most of them are just tweaking a bit very well known pedals, being the Tube Screamer the king of the modified pedals.

This is not good or bad, as it seems that every pedal has a legion of followers and buyers and, since tone is a very particular matter, what works for ones will not necessarily work for others. We are all ok, we are all happy.

Well, I was really happy with two Jetter pedals: the Gold 45/100 and the Jetdrive and, until now, none of the pedals I already own was able to dethrone those two kings of my tone. I did my tests with all my gain pedals and, this includes most of Weehbo's, Wampler's, Mad Professor's, Fulltone's, among many other boutique pedals.

Jetters were my to-go pedals but, still not fully satisfied. An awesome tone but, not exactly MY tone. Some day, I've seen that Mesa Boogie was releasing a line of pedals. I'm not a huge fan of MB amps, since they all have very complex front-end designs and, I am more in the line of having a clean and fair channel to build my tone over with some good pedals. Anyway, I was curious about those and watched and heard some Youtube videos. I thought they sounded really good but, you know, I needed to test them with the rest of my gear, to be sure they will perfectly interact with my "definitively keeper" pedals.

So, I went with my couple of fellow friends to Auvisa store, to check those pedals.

Mesa Boogie pedals time

As always, I've selected a Fender Bassman reissue to run my tests, since I consider it a fair amp, that reveals everything about any gear, the good and the bad. Tweaked the controls to get the foundational clean tone and, started to check Mesa Boogie pedals.

I've decided to insert 3 MB pedals in my pedalboard. First one was the GridSlammer, second the Flux Drive and, third the Throttle. In principle, I wasn't interested on their Booster, since this function is already well covered by my Wampler Decibel+ (buffer and booster).

So, the pedalboard was formed by the following pedals:

  • TC Electronics Polytune (which I am still suspecting is a tone sucker)
  • Dunlop Joe Bonamassa's Wah (which disapointed me)
  • Wampler EGO Compressor
  • Dry Bell Vibe Machine
  • Wampler Decibel+
  • Mesa Boogie GridSlammer
  • Mesa Boogie Flux Drive
  • Mesa Boogie Throttle
  • Strymon Mobius
  • Strymon El Capistan
I've started with MY clean tone, that is, with the Decibel+ correcting signal level and, the El Capistan for a nice Tape Echo delay. Then, first pedal tested was the GridSlammer.

Transparency is which would better describe the tone of the GridSlammer. Is a really good overdrive that pushes the tubes with ease. Sound is crystalline clear, with a British crunch flavor and, sets you in SRV tones and alike.

I said transparency is the key word for this pedal, because it just enhances the natural tone of your guitar and amp. With the tone control at 12:00 (middle position), the pedal straight cuts the mix. The guitar sound was perfectly distinguishable in its right presence range of frequencies. This pedal loves to push the other two MB pedals, also.

Then, it was the turn for the Flux Drive. Once again, the Flux Drive with its tone controls at 12:00, was straight cutting the mix. Not so transparent as the GridSlammer, the Flux Drive is more oriented to get medium distortion sounds in the ballpark of the old MB Mark amp series. 

I have to confirm this by reading the user's manual but, I had the sensation that tone controls were active, instead of passive and, any slight touch had a clear impact in tone. Middle position (which is a detent-stop position) worked flawless with my rig.

Probably, the Flux Drive is deceptively the more anodyne pedal of those three but, once you push it with the GridSlammer stacked before, you are in Hard Rock's heaven. Once I've switched on both pedals in a row, I wasn't able to stop playing.

Since results were so exciting, I've decided to complete the test using backing tracks. I've asked Auvisa's responsible (Rafa) to prepare me some PA system to run my MP3 backing tracks, to check how the pedals will work in real application. Rafa came back with a Yamaha StagePass 200 PA system (just a single speaker) and, the show begun.

Started the test playing over "Smoke on the Water" and, the compulsive dancing of a chinese little girl in front the room's window confirmed that the tone was perfect. While childs are natural, mature people seemed suddenly highly interested on the anodyne content of the shelves that were in front of the window. That confirmed me again that the sound was good enough.

Time to check the GridSlammer alone, while playing "Cocaine". Awesome tone, also.

Time to check first the GridSlammer alone and then, pushing the distortion levels with the Flux Drive, while playing "Old Love" and "Since I've been Loving You".

I had a man entering inside the room and, alternatively looking to the amp, pedals, my guitar and my fingers, while I was performing "Since I've been Loving You" and a "Blues in G". He gave me his "thumb up" before leaving the room. My friends told me that he was a very well known blues-man of this area.

I was funny thinking that maybe people thought that I was there demoing or promoting a particular product, instead of being a mediocre player carefully testing some pedals in a store.
Well, those were just people's reaction that just confirmed what my ears said: these pedals are a perfect marriage for my gear and personal style!!!.

Both pedals had a fair sound representation, with total definition note to note, even in unharmonic chords. They both sounded very open, without killing the attack, while delivering a nice sustain that made solos really easy to perform.

Tested those two from 11:30 to 13:30h and, went satisfied to lunch with my fellow friends.
We were discussing about the sound and, we all agreed they were perfectly fitting my gear and style.

We took a long while to lunch, drink, small talk and laugh then, we went back to the store, around 18:00h.
After our ears were cleaned and not biased, I did a quick test again with a few more backing tracks and, satisfied with the sound, I've decided to check the Throttle.

The Throttle is a Recto-in-a-box. Er... not... let me to reword this... is THE Recto-in-a-box pedal. Not a surprise, being MB the father of Rectifier amps.

While I also love that dense wall of sound of the red channel of a recto, this is not the sound that I will use the most of time but, I wanted to give a chance to this pedal. The "Mids cut" knob is somewhat the Contour control you usually find in MB amps and, completely re-equalizes the tone stack going from clear and bumped-mids settings to dark and deep with recessed mids.

So, it clearly covers lot of ground in High Gain distortion. I liked it more with the Mids-cut control around 7:00 (practically off). Tone, once more was left in the middle position.

Wow, wow, wow, wow!.
With this setting, I was achieving a very polished high gain distortion that clearly cut the mix, with that tasty controllable feedback on sound tails. This setting remembered me more to the sound of a Peavey 5150 or a Diezel Einstein but, you could achieve anything just rotating the Mids-cut control.

Even better, you could even switch on the three pedals and the sound remains well defined and, every single note is clearly recognized!!!.

Decision was clear: I want all them!. Let see how much they cost and, let see how many can I get today.
I've decided to end my pedals tests and, go to check some acoustic guitars, before the store closed.

As I left the guitar, my fellow friend asked me: "Can I..?". "Sure, bro, rock on!".
I left my friend preparing himself  and, went to test some acoustic guitars.

I had two deceptions in this pedalboard: the Bonamassa's wah and the Badgerplex Trilogy.

Bonamassa's wah lacked some sweep range, which made the EQ very narrowed.

The Badgerplex Trilogy is just a tone sucker. It was recommended to me in a forum, selling it as a way better sounding pedal than the good Xotic EP Booster and, since I've sold my EP Booster (and regretted every day), I've decide to try it.

Well, while the Xotic EP Booster just enhances your sound in a way that nobody is able to describe. The Trilogy kills your tone in a way that I can clearly describe.
The Trilogy rolls off high end frequencies, slightly compresses the attack and, kills the natural sustain of your sound. Instead of giving just an enhanced louder sound, it tends to easily force your tubes to break, which wasn't the goal for this kind of pedal.

Definitively, both were a waste of money.

Acoustic Guitars time

I was really interested on to test a couple of Martin's, the D28HD and D35HD but, they had the D28 and the D45, only.

I have to say that I was highly disappointed with both Martins, that sounded very dull in basses and string-to-string unbalanced. My other fellow friend (the luthier) was selecting more other guitars that seemed to have a good look. Tested lots of models of well known US brands, except for Gibson acoustics (the store doesn't work with Gibson anymore). I was highly disappointed with all them, including Martin, Taylor and, other brands.

The  only guitar that sounded with piano like basses, an open voice and a nice balance string-to-string, was a model by Alhambra. We were both surprised. Alhambra is a well known Spanish company that had a good name building Spanish and flamenco guitars but, I didn't know they were in the acoustic market, also.

My friend explained me that the key for tone is the way the air is being conducted inside the body and, this is something Spanish makers were mastered several centuries ago. So, not surprise that a Flamenco Guitar maker could apply its knowledge to build a great acoustic guitar.

Well, I cannot go so deep in luthier' stuff but, I had to agree that the Alhambra was the best sounding acoustic guitar of the around 25 guitars we've tested, hands down.

By the way, while I was testing the acoustics, I was clearly hearing my other friend performing "Hey Joe" and "Whola Lotta Love" and, I thougth: "Man, this is like to be hearing Hendrix and Page in a festival. Yes, I want those pedals to death".

Amp and David Allen's Dover pickups time

We've already tested the brand new Deluxe Stratocaster of my friend, loaded with David Allen Dovers pickups set and, the wiring design I did specially for my friend and those pickups but, from that early time, my amp was improved with a retubing kit from Watford Valves for this Fender Hot Rod III Deville amp.

Since my  #1 strat (also loaded with David Allen's pickups) is on hands of my friend luthier (Alex Tirado, look for that man!), for a complete refretting work and a nut substitution (remove the LRS nut and put a bone nut there), I was crazy to test how the enhanced amp would sound with those Dovers.

While my other friend was playing (Robert Tirado), I was tweaking the controls of its pedals, to adapt the EQ to the amp. Once established, the show begun.

Robert was along any kind of style you can imagine, playing from country to shredding. Backing tracks of Dire Straits, Pink Floyd, Zeppelin, Clapton, Prince... anything...

We selected sounds to check every of the 10 pickups combinations of his axe, getting great strato tones and good tele and lp alike tones.

It was a PERFECT marriage. Same as if you'd found the right wine for the right food, same as to play a LP in a old Marshall. We were shocked with the sound. It was professional studio quality.

Alex and I agreed: "Man, you need to buy exactly this amp and re-tube it with exactly this kit. You owe it!".

David Allen's Dovers are, in my honest opinion, the best strato set I've ever tested up to now (I am waiting an Echoes set). Dovers are just PERFECTION. They get anything and deliver with ease.
We tried combinations like a virtual LP Neck, Bridge and Middle positions (combining in series pickups) and, virtual Tele middle positions (both single coils and a virtual humbucker and a single coil).
They covered every style with ease, from sweet silky bells to rough but perfectly defined hi gain sounds.

If you still are in doubts whether to get a David Allen' set or, specially which one to get, I would say, try those Dovers first.

The only I regret is not being so smart to record his performance, because the sound was killer. But, we will do, for sure. This should be heard and spread to the whole World.

Side thoughts

While my friend was playing, achieving such an inspirational tone, I thought that when your gear has the right marriage, the only that you can do is just to create and enjoy. There is no need to think on... this doesn't sound, what's wrong?. Your mind isn't hijacked by negative thoughts and, you just play and enjoy and, if you enjoy, you transmit your feelings to the audience.

The Rock's dinosaurs had that kind of gear. They had the best tubes ever made, they had the pickups that current makers are trying to reproduce. They had the pedal effects that current makers are trying to reproduce or enhance. They had the gear so, they just focused on to enjoy it and be creative.

Watford's retubing kit included a NOS Philips 6L6 matched pair of tubes and, this is a clear enhancement over the stock Groove Tubes. The killer sounding Dovers in a relatively cheap amp retubed with great tubes made a huge difference.

I recall that my Fender Princeton Reverb reissue costed me exactly 1000 Euros, stock. I had to enhance it with a Weber speaker and, new tubes. For slightly less than 1000 Euros, I bought the Hot Rod III Deville and retubed it with a great Watford's kit. This amp has some cheap details, as the power cord in white (while the rest of amp is black) directly soldered to the PCB but, for that price you get a killer machine.

Another thing that surprised me is that I was a Marshall's and EL34s guy, to lately discover that I love Fender's and 6L6s !!!. It's crazy how our "pre-conceptions" go against our real needs.

It doesn't matter which style fits you, the most important thing is to find the right marriage, the one where all the components of your rig complete the full puzzle of your sound. And, it doesn't matter if you achieve it with the cheapest gear on the world (which usually doesn't happen). Forums create trends and overhypen (in both sides, as good or bad) certain products, most of times people that even didn't tried them in person.

To go to the store with your complete rig (if they doesn't have your components) to test a new component that should fit your rig is a great idea. Sometimes, to test a certain device alone gives us good sensations but, when it has to be inserted in your sound chain, the drawbacks suddenly explode in your face.

22 April 2014

Amps: Watford Valves, yes Sir.


This is just a short note related to my recent experience with Watford Valves.

I have a drawer full of spare tubes, that correspond to all the tubes I was purchasing trying to bring some life to my amps. Most of my purchases were made to the Tube Amp Doctor (T.A.D.) but, once I've started to be disappointed with their tubes, I went to other European tube dealers, to get even worst results.

I knew about Watford Valves and, I knew they had a strong name but, the expensive exchange rate Euro / Pound, were keeping me out of their online store. This and the fact that the five times I tried to get some guidance from them ended in nothing. Nobody seems to answer you back. This is still my main concern related to Watford Valves. Nobody seems to care about emails.

But, since Watford has some re-tubing kits, specific for some brand and model of amps and, I was in the need to re-tube a couple of amps (Vox Night Train and Fender Hot Rod III Deville) and, my spare stock contained just those tubes I had rejected, I've decided to give a try to one of those kits.

Already mentioned in a previous blog entry, I've successfully re-tubed my Fender Hot Rod III Deville with one of Watford's re-tubing kits and, as soon as those tubes were at home, I did my own tests, with the help of the Orange Divo VT-1000 tester and, I was gratefully surprised with all them being really close to specifications.

Because of that, I wanted to check again  with a couple more amps: the Vox Night Train (complete re-tubing) and the Marshall 1923C 85th Anniversary Combo (just pre-amp tubes, because power tubes are already SED Winged-C EL34s).

Retubing the Vox Night Train

As I did with the tubes for the Deville, I've tested the new tubes as soon as they came from Watford and, before installing them in both amps.

The kit I've used for the Night Train is the kit that's being sold for a Vox AC15, since they have exactly same tube topology and, very similar overall character.

Watford relabels all the tubes that are passing their exhaustive Drive Test with the Harma name.
TAD relabels also the tube that passed their own tests with the TAD name but, I have the impression that TAD tubes have a tolerance range higher than Harma tubes and, therefore, they don't bring the same life to the amp.

The kit for the Vox AC15 comes with a couple of Harma ECC83-RET (retro) pre-amp tubes and a couple of Harma EL84-RET (retro) tubes. Watford doesn't identifies which brand/model is re-labeling but, I had the impression that all them where Mullard reissue (Red Sensor).
Since I had a Mullard 12AX7 in Night Train's preamp and a couple of Mullard EL84 in power amp, comparing my tubes with tubes from Watford, gave me the impression that they were all Mullard reissue.

This is not an issue, because those were exactly the tubes I've chosen time ago for that amp. But, since I remember how they sounded after re-tubing the Night Train, this would be a fire test to see if the relabeled Harma tubes could work the same or better.

I remember that my Night Train was sounding really good (before some tube worn) but, man, now it sounds really stellar.

The Orange Divo doesn't tells me all the history. The readings for the pre-amp tubes where the same I usually get for Mullard reissue 12AX7 tubes: one triode reads 10, the other 11. The readings for both EL84 were 10, while I'm getting readings of 10 (most of times) and 11 for Mullard EL84 reissue tubes.

So, in principle, I was throwing there same tubes, with same readings. So, how that kit from Watford can sound better?.
My suspect is that the difference can be related to other variables and, very specially, to transconductance.

I made a short test, with guitar and some backing tracks and, I was fully satisfied with the sound of the Night Train. Indeed, one more score!.

Retubing the Marshall 1923C 85th Anniversary Combo

I've chosen a Classic / Hi Gain kit for this amp, because I want an early breakup, to be able to cook the tubes at lower volumes.

This time the Harma ECC83-Ret tubes seemed to me JJ ECC83S tubes but, readings where a digit over my usual readings with TAD 12AX7-Cz (JJ ECC83S) tubes. While TAD tubes usually read 8 / 9 (triode A / triode B), Harma tubes read 9 / 10 (V1 and V3), 8 / 10 (V2) and, the balanced one 10 / 11 (PI).

This is the second balance tube from Watford and, both have unbalanced triodes but, both have at least one reading 10 (on specs) and, the unbalanced is just a digit more or less.

Long time ago, I did a lot of swaps to this Marshall, and my conclusion was that there is no other tube that works better in this particular amp than the JJ ECC83S. My suspect is that those ECC83-Ret are effectively JJ ECC83S tubes. If the history repeats, as with the Deville and the Night Train, my favourite amp will come back to life very soon.

I have to re-bias the EL34 to Marshall' specs (45mv). Then, I will be able to evaluate the real impact of those pre-amp tubes, which I hope to test by tomorrow.


It seems that Watford Valves do the best tests on tubes, at least in Europe.
I've wasted a lot of money before, trying to get more affordable tubes, which leaded me to unsatisfactory results and a ton of spare tubes that I will probably have to throw to the trash can.

They won a new customer, indeed. But, I would suggest to Watford to have someone taking care of the email, because not everybody can make an international call that could cost even more than a single tube.

19 April 2014

Pedals: Jetter Gear Gold 45/100 and Jetdrive


Gain pedals probably are the type of pedals that more often rotate in a guitarist's pedalboard and, I am not an exception.
From time to time, it seems that a new breed of pedals enhances the sound of your current gain pedals and, you want to check those.

I've owned / tested so many Overdrives and Distortion boxes that I can barely remember all them but, I went from the cheapest Boss and MXR units to boutique pedals from Xotic, Fulltone, Hermida Audio, MI Audio, Wampler, Weehbo, Mad Professor (hand wired), Butler Audio, etc.

But, why?.
The main issue is that I can not run my amps in their best spot. Tube amps are awesome tone machines and, sure, if you can krank your amp, the best distortion you could always find is the one coming from your amp.

So, to be able to krank your amp, you need to downsize your rig and then to go for a lower powered amp but, this has its drawbacks also. The lower the power of the amp, the less clean headroom and the more difficult to represent the whole range of frequencies and, very specially, the low end.
Also, there is a minimum of power that you will need if you need to rehearsal with a band and, if you need to play small gigs.

Also, even that your amp's distortion can be amazing, you often need a variate palette of distortions to cover different tasks. Well, there are multi-channeled multi-mode amps, with lots of switches and other goodies that make them really versatile and handy. But, usually, an amp sounds with a better singing voice the simpler its circuit design is and, the versatility of any amp can compromise the overall sound. It's difficult to have an amp that can cover everything and every style with spades. Usually the sound is being compromised to obtain useful tones in every mode but, not a killer or perfect tone in all them.

Anyway, what is every single guitarist after is his/her own business and relates to his/her individual quest for his/her tone.

I'm currently interested in an amp with good cleans that could be a great platform to sculpt my sound with my preferred pedals. I also need an amp with certain headroom, to be used with a band or for small gigs. That leaded me to the Fender Hot Rod III 212 Deville, which not being a top-notch amp is good enough for my current needs.

But, being an amp with a power of 65W and, with a couple of Celestion speakers of 12", it can go loud very soon and, at low volume level it lacks something and, that's when some particular pedals, as boosters or overdrives have a good opportunity to shine.

Re-tubing my amp

After few tests with some of my spare tubes, I've decided to try a complete re-tubing set from Watford Valves, that worked really nice, enhancing the stock voice of the amp, which was just correct (with Groove Tubes).

Watford's kit included a JAN/Philips 6L6 pair that sounds perfect in this amp. Pre-amp tubes are Harma STR and, they seemed to me relabeled JJ ECC83S Gold Pin but carefully tested and picked up, with correct specifications.

Still thinking on to swap the correct but anodyne Celestions with some Harma speakers but, tubes set the amp in a very good condition.

Re-building my pedalboard

You know, every new incoming pedal often shakes your pedalboard and, you are in the need to re-check everything again, to find the best way your pedals can inter-actuate.

I've found that my Area 51 wah wasn't working fine with my rest of pedals and, therefore, I wanted to check a Cry Baby this time. While I was weighting which want to choose, I thought... well... there is the Bonamassa's one and, that guy really rocks; if it works for him, it should work for me; reasonably affordable, why don't to try it?.

I've tested the Bonamassa's wah alone and delivered good tones but, I had still not opportunity to check the pedal together with the rest of pedals of my pedalboard. This will come later.
One of the questions I need to clarify is if I need to run such a pedal in Buffered or True Bypass mode.

I've started to build the pedalboard from scratch.
Firstly, tweaking the amp with the guitar direct to amp then, being increasing the pedalboard chain, pedal by pedal.

I've started with the tuner, the TC Polytune, which is theoretically true bypass but, I really suspect it's sucking the tone a bit, thinning it and making it brigther. But, until I can throw there a best pedal, as a Peterson's one, this is the best place for this pedal, since switching it off, the whole rig mutes.

After the tuner (that should be true bypass), the Wah is the natural election to lead the chain and, therefore, I've thrown there the Bonamassa's wah, in their stock setting (which I guess is buffered but, the internal dip switch has no sign that can help you, neither the user's manual. I've decided that once the rest of the pedalboard is ok, I will go back to the wah to check both modes and see how it impacts to the rest of the chain.

Next pedal, the compressor. The Wampler EGO compressor is the one I'm using for a long while.

Next pedal, just before my overdrives is where I like vintage vibes so, my Dry Bell Machine Vibe was placed there.

Then, I've tried the two Jetter pedals I love, the Gold 45/100 and the Jetdrive. While I had these pedals sorted with the Jetdrive stacked into the Gold, results weren't satisfactory at all.
This time, I've decided to swap the order of both pedals, stacking the Gold before the Jetdrive and... that was a great idea.

But, what I've noticed is that there was a drop in tone as soon as I've inserted the Jetdrive.
It seemed that the chain was safe with the five first pedals (tuner, wah, compressor, vibe and first overdrive) but, as soon as I've added the sixth, the tone started to suffer.
I've decided to insert the Wampler Decibel+ before those two overdrives, just to recover the signal level and guitar tone.

I've also discovered that the Vibe had a lot of impact over the overdrives, depending on its mode.
The Original mode (unbuffered output) worked better than the Bright mode (buffered output), as soon as I was able to recover the tone sucking with the Decibel placed just between the Vibe and the two overdrives.

Following those two Jetter's overdrives, I've checked several boxes that I wanted to cover the hi-gain distortion but, liked none. They all sounded or weak or undefined (compared to the Jetters).
None of the Jetter's distortions liked me: Red Square, Dharma; both seemed to me having less gain range than the Jetdrive itself.
Searching for a more liquid and bold distortion, I've checked also the Suhr Riot Reloaded and the Weehbo Bastard. None delivered what I am after.
I am thinking on to test the new Mesa Boogie's boxes, which sound as good candidates.
I've already tried Bogner's boxes and, probably the Red is a good candidate but, too big for my pedalboard room.

Anyway, I've decided to don't stack a higher distortion pedal after the two Jetter's overdrives until I have a firm candidate. So, my chain was ended with the all-in-one modulation effect, the Strymon Möbius and, my echo tape emulation, the Strymon El Capistan.

Jetter Gear Gold 45/100 and Jetdrive

These two are the two best overdrive pedals that I've tested up today and, the only two Jetter Gear's pedals I can highly recommend to anyone.

The Gold 45/100 is after nailing the tone of the early Marshall JTM45 and, I don't care how close it is to the real thing but, I really care (as always) is how useful it's for my needs.

There are several overdrive boxes that bring you that "Plexi" tone, somewhat close to the original Bassman tone (which the JTM was originally based on), which usually translates into a clean but warm sound, with a delicious break-up when picking hard.
Lots of good pedals are covering this soft-warm overdrive tone, as the Mad Professor Sweet Honey (delicious), the Wampler Tweed 57 or Plexi Drive or the Weehbo Plexdrive or Plexface.

None of the Wampler's had a really "clean warm" tone. They had a clear break-up that was there from the very beginning, as if the volume of the amp was always kranked, with more or less gain.

The Plexdrive had a lot of "clean warm" range and very few of "broke up" range, except if you switched on the boost section, which added a lot of floor noise (as the boost in Wampler's pedals).

Probably, the more balanced one was the Sweet Honey but, the kranked tone was a tad undefined to my taste.

I would say that the Gold 45/100 is closer to the good tone of the Weehbo, with an enhanced gain range closer to the Sweet Honey. As it happens with Weehbo pedals, one thing that defines Jetter Gear pedals is that they stand very defined even when at full gain but, differently from Weehbo pedals, the gain range seems greater in Jetter Gear overdrives (while their distortions lack gain!).

What I love of the Gold 45/100 is that, placed as the first gain stage in my pedalboard, it converts my amp into an old-school tube rectified amp so, my Hot Rod III Deville goes closer to an old Bassman, with that nice warm but sparkling clean. Rest of distortions stacked after, get an old-school tone that instantaneously remember the great bands of the '70s, when the Hard Rock was founded.

The Jetdrive is an awesome dual overdrive, with tons of gain on hands.
Playing with the Volume and Gain controls of each individual overdrive channel you can get lots of overdrive nuances, until you get the ones that better suit your needs. Tone control is highly responsive and, small touches have a direct impact in the sound.

The Green channel sounds to me with a crunchy attitude and, with an EQ probably bumped in mid-highs frequencies. The sound isn't compressed but, very open and in your face. Maybe, a British crunchy low to middle gain overdrive, more modern than vintage.

The Blue channel sounds to me more silky but slightly compressed, the EQ seems more even or with recessed mids. It has more gain available than the green channel but, surprisingly stays clean. Maybe a more American low to middle gain overdrive and, probably more vintage than modern (compared to the Green channel).

Stacking both pedals, you achieve tons of gain, enough to get the singing but liquid solos of a Peavey 5150 and, that remain so defined as in that amp. Sure, you cannot cover high gain metal distortion tones and, the pedal doesn't goes that hard in low end but, the tone is closer to the "brown sound" or the liquid tones that were available in the '80s - '90s.

The Gold stacked before any of the two channels of the Jetdrive or, before both channels stacked, adds warm and definition to the sound, taming down some high end.
Those two pedals together, give you 6 different nuances of overdrive/distortion, always very dynamic, responsive and organic. They sound more like an amp than like a pedal (as in the case of Weehbo's).

I wouldn't say that my pedalboard is already finish but, those two Jetter's are two clear keepers, right now. And, very interesting, I'm running those at standard 9V, since they are clear enough.

One Video

I made some video, while tweaking the pedals and, while testing them with some backing tracks to see how they help me with real performances.

First part of the video includes two improvisations over two free downloadable backing tracks. The first one was named "Blues in G" (If memory doesn't fail) and, the second one is based in "Old Love" by Eric Clapton. Pure improvisation, while testing the pedals, switched by hand.

The second part includes the building-on process of the foundational tone to which I add the the two Jetter's pedals. The foundational tone is built with the Wampler Decibel+ buffer/booster (to recover the signal level and tone lost after the Vibe) and the Strymon El Capistan (to add the Delay and better fit the guitar into the mix of the backing tracks).

Since my #1 guitar is on hands of my fellow friend Luthier (Alex Tirado, search that man if you are in Mataro or Barcelona areas!), I've used my PRS 513 Rosewood, since it can covers single coil, vintage and modern humbucker sounds so, I could get some compromised settings to be useful with the three types of pickups.

But, I've ended just checking singles and mid output humbuckers, in the building-on part. For the two improvisations, single coil modes were used, only.

Room' sound (and video) was recorded directly with a Zoom Q3HD device.
Sound wasn't processed in Pro Tools or any other kind of DAW.
In the Video Editor, I've just used IK Multimedia Classic Compressor (to bring back the sound level, dimmed by the low-sensitivity setting of the Q3HD) and the Brickwall Limiter (to avoid clipping). Nothing else used, no effect added.

03 April 2014

Amps: Fender Hot Rod III 212 Deville - testing tubes - Part 1


After installing the re-tubing set from Watford, the amp came to good life, warmer, punchier and with rich harmonics but, I wondered if I can go further, fine tuning the sound.

Those NOS JAN/Philips 6L6WGB are great tubes, indeed. And those Harma 12AX7-STR (I bet this is a take of the JJ ECC83S Golden-pin) are delivering good sound with spades. But, I feel some crunchy mids that I am suspecting coming from the PI tube.

Even that this set works awesome, I am just curious to see the impact of changing every individual pre-amp tube.

Test: Swapping PI (V3) tube

Being the Harma 12AX7-STR a nice tube for this position, it has a short plate and, I usually prefer there long plate tubes or, the awesome JAN/Philips 5751 (with a great transconductancy and really hard to break up).

Well, I reviewed my spare depot and, didn't found a valid long plate tube, as the Sovtek 12AX7-LPS or the JJ ECC803S. Well, I had a LPS but, with very low ratings (7 / 8, triode A, triode B).
I could test a Mullard reissue there but, maybe the spiky mids and crunchy distortion can be a bad election for this amp. So, with so few options, I went to reuse my last JAN/Philips 5751.

Clearly, that blurry mids that I've hear were removed and, the overall sound was brighter and more defined.
I've tested also the hi-gain settings (Drive Channel / More Drive) and, it was awesome, with fast response to your picking technic so, fast riffs where really easy to perform, because of the immediateness of the amp.

But the 5751 works the best, the more you raise the volume of the amp, sounding a tad bonny and trebbly at low volumes. With the amp really hot, results are enough  to demolish your walls. What a beast!.

Also, the reverb was tamed down, and most of the ice picky reverb sounds were removed. JJ ECC83S tube is picking hard in mid-highs.

This little test, showed me that there is some room for improvements there, just swapping the PI tube.
I need to source some even-EQ'd tubes with large plate and good transconductancy and nice output to try there. Maybe the JJ ECC803S or the Ruby 12AX7-M or the Sovtek 12AX7-LPS (but, this one last very few in combos).

The second test was to thrown there a Mullard 12AX7 reissue, even that I knew is a bright tube, I wanted to check the effect of the change.
Well, more or less same results than with the 5751, maybe slightly more power and, overall, the tone was brighter and harsher, very specially with single coils.

Noe of those tubes has same reverb strength as the original GT but, it made the Reverb to sound really harsh.

It seems that the Harma 12AX7-STR, this time balanced, will be the best option.

Test: Sorting tubes by gain, ascending

While I prefer the V1 with higher gain to get an overall early distortion. I thought that maybe a way to remove that slightly blurred mids (due to the Phase Inverter, as demoed my previous test) could be to arrange the tubes from lower to higher gain, being the PI the tube with higher gain. Maybe, in that way I could have some headroom when cascading a tube into the other.

Wow!. Results are just Perfect. Nothing more, nothing less.
That sounds to great amp, right now.

I stop swapping tubes. Those Harma 12AX7-STR paired with those JAN/Philips 6L6WGB are awesome for this amp.
The high distortion sounds more defined, with less fizz and strange overtones.

Well, I think that Watford Valves has earn a new customer, indeed!.
Great work!.

Video Demo

to come...

02 April 2014

Amps: Fender Hot Rod III 212 Deville


I was in the market for an amp with a great clean channel that could take every pedal with ease and, that could be used at studio and gig levels. For dorm levels, or you end with a good solid state amp or, some amp modeler (digital) or with some kind of dummy load to reduce the overall loudness.

But, I haven't really planed to get one, right now.

What happened is that I went with my fellow friend to a big store, to help him to select his new brand Strato. I wanted to have the opportunity to test some amps, just to discard some models and narrowing the search but, I hadn't any real willing of buying an amp that time.

Well, I've plugged my guitar to several, including some unaffordable or unpractical ones (as the Bassman 4x10 or some Victoria amps). Suddenly, I've remembered to watch some videos about Fender's Hot Rod series and, was really curious to test one.
Between the Deluxe and the Deville, my election was to test the Deville, because of its higher power (60W), which should give me more clean headroom.

Hell!. As soon as I plugged my guitar and pedalboard to that amp, I loved it.
Well, we were 4 friends in the room. Everybody liked it and, pushed me to buy it!.
I had the credit available so... what the heck... I did it!.

The amp

It seems to be the most selled amp in the world and a total score for Fender but, is that good?.

The amp works with three pre-amp tubes (12AX7 / ECC83 types) and a couple of power tubes (6L6).
Rectifier is solid state.

It has two channels (well, just one more stacked triode in the second tube), two inputs (higher and lower impedance), a mode switch (normal, bright) and a gain switch (gain, more gain).

Controls are: Volume (for clean channel), Treble, Middle, Bass, Reverb and Presence.
For the gain channel, the Volume is being deactivated and the Gain pot takes its place. The overall volume of this channel is handled later with the Master control.

Channel and gain levels are switchable with an external pedal switch (two switches).

It has a post-preamp output and a pre-power input so, you can even chain several of those  or, you can use those as the FX loop (whitout level control).

This is one of the few Fenders I see having a Bypass switch, what is very well welcome. Also, one of the few Fenders that comes with a trim pot for cathode-method biasing and a clear testing pin for your probes.

On the dark side, the amp has the jacks for plug alternative cabs inside, instead of on top or back. The power cord is directly soldered to the PCB and its white, while the whole amp is black!!!. So, you cannot unplug that hanging white cord from the amp.
The tube sockets are floating, just supported by the solders to the PCB, which makes me feel that I am gonna break the PCB if pushing the tubes really hard. As in most Fender's combos, the tubes hang down so, you will probably have to tilt the amp to see the sockets, when replacing tubes.

Well, I know price is a compromise but, can those important things be part of price compromise, really?. Even VHT, with unbeatable prices, gets rid of this things!.

Overall, the amp has a typical Fender look and, seem well built (except for those mentioned design details).

The sound

Stock, the amp sounds really good but, as soon as you drive it a bit more, with the help of a clean booster or alike, you quickly see that the sound can be enhanced.

Without any pushing pedal, it sounds nice but, like lacking some mojo. Too much defined, even aseptic. More hi-fi than musical.

The drive channel farts a bit and, sounds like a IC / transistor / diodes are doing the dirty work, instead of cooked tubes. But, well, I wasn't interested on the drive channel anyway. For that, I have my good pedals.

As usual, I've removed the tubes and, tested them with the Orange Divo VT-1000 tube tester, to check which tubes came stock and which values were used.

All tubes were Groove-Tubes. Not surprise, since GT belongs to Fender, as well.

The three pre-amp tubes were SV-12AX7-R, so Sovtek 12AX7 tubes, which are very EQ even and silky but, lack tridimensionality and character.

The power tubes were, at the end, a couple of EH 5881 tubes.

Measured their matching values, I've found following figures:

V1: 7 / 8
V2: 8 / 8
V3: 7 / 8
Power: 9 / 10

Being each value the corresponding to each triode (for pre-amp tubes) or the value of each tube (for power tubes). The degree that each tube (or triode) satisfies standard specifications is being give by such a number, being 10 the reference value.

That means that, if a 12AX7 tube should have a gain of 100 (10 for each triode), V1 had a gain of 7  for triode 1 and 8 for triode 2 therefore, under specifications. Power tubes were right well on specs values.

Speakers are Celestion G12P-80. Not great speakers but, very even EQ'd and, often used for modeling-amps, which need a very broad frequential representation, to mime several amps with very different EQ characteristics. Not being specialized speakers, they can serve as a good clean platform to build your sound with the help of pedals so, I am not in the need of swap them, by now.

Tube Swapping

I was understanding that I should get more tone from this amp, just swapping stock tubes.
This is my first 6L6 amp so, I had to investigate a while about 6L6 tubes and, recommendations.
As always, NOS tubes seem to be the reference but, the Winged-C 6L6 (of the real Svetlana factory, in St. Petersburg) seemed to be the natural election, followed by some TAD 6L6WGB.

So, I did my research and, this time, I wanted to try Watford Valves, for this set of tubes.
Watford Valves had a re-tube kit ready for this amp, with NOS 6L6 tubes and, three of their re-branded tubes (Harma ECC83-STR).
Watford Valves is, probably, the tube dealer with the best name but, I had never ordered to them, because of the Pound / Euro ratio, VAT, etc. But, there is always a first time.

While I was waiting for such a set, I wanted to try some pre-amp tubes and, thrown there a Mullard Reissue in V1, a Svetlana (Red Sensor) 12AX7 in V2 and a Tung-Sol in the PI (since I had no better option).
Results were awful. What a way to destroy the sound of that amp!.

Overall loudness did fall about 2 numbers in the volume dial and, the sound was bonny, hollow and excessively crunchy. Not a good set of tubes to be paired with those 6L6 tubes.
So, since I had that re-tubing set on the way, I've decided to wait for it and, to continue my tests later.

As soon as the Watford tubes came, I prepared the Orange Divo VT-1000 tube tester and, checked every tube. That was a very great surprise. While most of tubes coming from TAD are rated around 8/9, the set from Watford was very consistent and, very close to specifications. These were the values:

Harma ECC83-STR - tube 1 - 9 / 10
Harma ECC83-STR - tube 2 - 10 / 11
Harma ECC84-STR - tube 3 - 10 / 10

NOS JAN/Philips 6L6WGB - 9 / 10

I've decided to put tube 2 in V1, because it had the two triodes with more gain, to push the input stage.
I've decided to put tube 3 in PI, because it had the more balanced triodes.
And, tube 1 was placed in V2.

Next decision was how to BIAS the amp. Fortunately, the Hot Rod III Deville has a (big blue) trim pot to bias the power tubes, this and my TAD Bias Master system, made it very comfortable.

The factory biasing sounded a tad cool and, I wanted to get a little more harmonic content so, I've searched everywhere and, found (as always) highly contradictory information.
Fender recommends 30 mV by tube but, if you use Weber Bias Calculator, it seems that 6L6 tubes can go up to 40 mV at 70% of max. disipation power.
Eurotubes was biasing to 40 mV by tube.
A mate was really happy with his amp biased to 32.5 mV by tube and, added that his tubes last years and years because of it.

I made my own calculations, taking into account the highly variable voltage ratio read in my mains, and decided to go with 38 mV by tube.

Switched on the amp and plugged the guitar. Overall, the sound was warmer and darker than with original Sovtek tubes but, in a good way. But, the sound seemed to me a bit cooked and, breaking really early. The power delivered was brutal and, most of the objects on the bins around started to fall down.
Tested the guitar direct to amp, both channels, every mode.
I've ended taking the decision to move down the biasing value and, I wanted to try those 32.5 mV that seemed to satisfy that guy.

Next day, I re-biased the tubes to 32.5 mV and, tried again.
Wow. The overall loudness was reduced but, the sound was less crunchy or cooked and, allowed me to set up the amp in a good sweet spot, to play clean and break the tubes by picking hard.
There is a warm pad bellow the sound, rich in harmonics and really tasteful.
I've enjoyed the test session a lot. It was like being plugged to a good old-school amp, a la Bassman or alike.

The Normal mode of the Clean channel sounded a bit dull and lifeless with factory tubes but, with this re-tubing, it sounded warm but beautiful. Really nice.
The Bright mode of the Clean channel sounded too much bright (even piercing) with factory tubes but, now it was easier to tame down the excessive high end.

The Gain channel sounded too dirty with Factory tubes. Now, it sounded more like a tube-distortion.

I can try to rotate those three tubes in the different positions. Maybe a higher output tube with a later break in PI will bring more clean headroom to the amp. And maybe, a lower output tube with a later break can help the pre-amp to stay cleaner. But, it's clear that British sounding tubes, as the Mullard reissue, the EH or the Svetlana aren't the best option for this amp, since they have a classic British crunch.

I have no clue which tubes are those Harma 12AX7-STR because, STR (Special Tube Request) means that the maker introduces some variations to make the tube to buyer' specifications (that is, Watford Valves' specifications) and, this usually mean you are ordering a Chinese tube. But, tube pins don't have that dull aspect that Chinese tubes usually have and, it's overall aspect resembles me to a JJ ECC83S (maybe with golden pins). The sound is also closer to a JJ, specially in the middle-high frequencies but, surprisingly darker than the Sovtek. I have to investigate it a bit more.

Maybe, now that I have the tubes biased and controls set up to my taste, I will try some tubes, in individual positions, to see what changes. Maybe, the TAD 7025-S highgrade in V1 could do something good. Will see. I would like to tame a bit the spike on mid-highs and, a cleaner Reverb recovery sound.

Will come back with my tests in a further entry in this blog.

Notes on Biasing this amp

Biasing this amp, don't forget to:

  • Roll down every control, including the tone stack, presence, master and drive. Everything down.
  • Switch the mode to Normal (not Bright).
  • Set your biasing probes between the socked and the tube (safer than just a multimeter).
  • Switch off the amp and, wait 5 mins.
  • Switch off the bypass
  • Bias to your target value
  • Leave the amp like this for about 20 mins, to help the whole circuit to stabilize.
  • Re-check your bias setting and, do latest adjustment.
To avoid to remove the amp's framework out of the combo, I've flipped the amp down, over its speakers' grill to better access tubes and that blue trim-pot for biasing.
By careful, there are a lot of components that can be accidentally touched and, have lethal voltages.