25 January 2015

Waiting for my Southern Belle Guitar

The story...

David Allen introduced Morgan Mitcham, who runs Southern Belle Guitars and, she only uses David Allen's pickups, what in fact means that Morgan cares about tone.

I don't usually buy luthier's guitars, since they have no value if you think that you could resell them later. But, I am thinking on the specifications of my dreamed guitar since long time ago. After testing several guitars of any kind, now I knew what I wanted and, unfortunately isn't in the market at a reasonable price. Therefore, this was a golden opportunity to have my dreamed guitar at a reasonable price.

Well, I've watched the very few videos where you can hear a Southern Belle Guitar sounding and, I loved the sound and sustain of such guitars, and very specially, the sound of a Tele Cabronita, with a couple of David Allen's Rebels (Fitertones). So, I thought that if she could build my guitar with such a big tone, I would be fully satisfied and, probably the seek for my number one guitar will finish.

I was in contact with Morgan to check if my specifications were feasible and, since they were, I've ordered the guitar. David is providing me a set of Furys (think on Robin Trower) for that axe, which I expect will work for my personal style.

My Specifications

But... what I wanted?.
I wanted, basically a Stratocaster but, with some twists.

The body should have some carving or beveling on the area of the neck's pocket, to allow a better access to lower frets. Morgan show me some body model that had such a beveling but, without altering the classic look of a Strato. First smile.

The neck should have a soft-V profile, with a maple fretboard and compound radius, starting on 9.5", as any regular modern Strato. No issues?. Nice, second smile.

Tuning Keys should be auto-locking staggered ones. No issues?. Awesome, third smile.
This is one of the things I love in the Deluxe Strato.

Bone nut, please. Right.

I want the Deluxe floating bridge and tremolo bar. No problem.
This is the second thing I love in the Deluxe Strato.

I want Pearl pickguard and strings cover. No problem.

I want black knobs and pickups covers. No problem.

I want her painted in Cherry Sunburst. No problem.

I want to wire it following my own Wiring Design. No problem.

Please, I want not the Micro-Tilt system. No problem.
This is one of the two things I hate in Deluxe Strato.

Building process

It took a long while but, the good things take longer times so...
Here you can see some pictures about how she was taking her final look.

First, Morgan was focused on the neck...

Then, it was the turn to paint the body...

Yeeees!. That's the look I wanted. Beautiful!.

Working on the wiring. This is how it would look, more or less...

Aha!. This is exactly the look I wanted. Perfect!.

She's coming and, I am counting the days to put my hands on this beauty.
I will make some demo video of the guitar, once the final setup is made and, everything goes as expected.

Testing David Allen Echoes set


Quality of David Allen' stuff can never worry me. The big issue is to choose between hes different sets of pickups. He tends to create sets of pickups that remember a certain tone and, he does that with the best materials and taking care about tone, independently if materials to achieve it are vintage-correct or not.

The distance between poles, their size, shape and material can change from pickup model to model. In fact, you cannot reuse any replacement Strato pickup cover for DA pickups because of his approach to tone.

While most pickups makers offer sets of pickups where the three or, at least two, are exactly the same (usually neck and middle are exactly the same and the one that's different is the bridge one), David, instead, engineers each position individually, to get the best on each one.
His sets are well balanced respect to the tone he's after for every set.

In this entry, we are going to make some comments about DA Echoes set, which is after the tone of David Gilmour and, tries to cover from early vintage tones to the most saturated recent ones.

David Allen's Echoes

As usual, the set comes "complete". Appart of the pickups herself, the box comes with a PIO .0047 mF cap and, with a pull/push 250K pot to control the two taps of the bridge Echoes pickup.

The Echoes bridge pickup is one of the very few that DA brings to you with some tap. In this case, we have a very vintage bridge pickup when using the regular output tap and, a strong and beefy bridge pickup when using the hot output tap, which helps you to saturate gain stages and, achieve a creamy and thick lead sound.

For early Pink Floyd sounds, the regular tap is the most useful while for more modern stuff (think on Sorrow and alike)  the hotter tap is the one you wanted.

The question is, can DA Echoes nail David Gilmour tones?.
Well, the pickups can but, can you?. Not an easy player to copy. I did my best in the demo video but, Gilmour is Gilmour.

But, we want pickups that can cover a broader territory than just DG tones, right?.
How they deliver tones for other tones / styles?.

Well, I did some video that starts with Pink Floyd' Shine on you crazy diamonds but, it continues with other stuff and, as I designed a very particular wiring for this axe, I can check how DA Echoes work when making special combinations (Virtual Neck Humbucker, Virtual Tele SS middle position, Virtual Humbuckers in parallel, Virtual HS middle position, Virtual Bridge Humbucker).
And, certainly, this set can really cover lot of ground with ease.

The Video

I could do a video showing the pickups direct to amp, clean to demo their own sound but, this is a way I personally don't like. What I really want is a set of pickups that can sound good, cutting the mix, doing the real job.
I've found many times stuff that sounds impressive alone but, once you use it with the rest of your gear, the sound simply doesn't cuts the mix.

That's why I always try anything with the help of backing tracks and, testing the several pedal effects I've got in my pedalboard before to determine if such stuff does its job for me.

Well, not surprise here. As with practically any DA set I've tested, the job is covered with spades.

The video was recorded, as always, taking the room' sound directly with a Zoom Q3HD recorded. There is no post-processing. I am not using Pro-Tools to make it more studio-alike, by example.
I'm just using the Classic Compressor and the Brickwall Limiter by IK Multimedia in the video editor to restore the original loudness (since I  have the Zoom's mic in low sensibility, to avoid limiting) and, avoid overs in peaks.
No Noise Gate or whatever, not delay or reverb added. So, what you hear is what you would hear if you were in same room as myself.

The video has some improvisations over backing tracks (sorry, not my best day):

Shine on you crazy diamonds (Pink Floyd)
Middle funky blues (unknown)
Jazzy blues (unknown)
Stairway to heaven (Led Zeppelin, to check alternate positions)
Talk to your mother (unknown)

The Gear

I am using a Fender Deluxe American Stratocaster, that originally was an HSS type with Samarian Cobalt pickups. For this set of pickups, I have designed my own wiring, to achieve 10 different sounds that should help me to cover most of musical styles.

The axe has the 5 regular Strato tones but, it has 5 more alternate combinations, that allow me to add a virtual LP and, two virtual Tele middle positions (SS and HS).
Also, since the Echoes bridge has a hot tap, in whatever alternate combo where the bridge pickup is involved, I can get more modern tones by selecting such a tap.

This time, I am checking a new set of strings, NYXL model, which differentiates from standard XL models because provides different stress to some of the strings of the set. It seems to me that the G and B strings are more "consistent" with this approach and, also, the D string seems less stressed.
I don't feel big mechanical differences while playing, but the sound seems to be improved somewhat.

For cables and patch cords I am using Evidence Audio stuff. As explained in previous entries, it's expensive but, it's a one-time expense and, EA covers your cables for the whole life.

The amp I am using is a Fender '59 Bassman LTD but, since I find the new Jensen P10R speakers sounding good alone but, lost in the mix, I've tried to swap those with 4 Celestion Gold. I've failed, since you can simply don't swap the upper speakers. The amp's chasing lies just over one of the two horizontal cuts that those P10R have so, once I've put there the Celestions, I wasn't able to fit the amp's chasing. Because of this, the amp is now working with two Jensens on top and, two Celestion Gold below. The amp cuts the mix way better now.
I'm using a Watford Valves' retrofit set of valves, which include some NOS Philips 6L6 (well, in fact, they are 5881).

On pedalboard, I'm using the following array of pedals:

Peterson Classic Stomp (Tuner)
Wampler Decibel + (Buffer to help to drive the rest of pedals)
Real McCoy RMC4 Picture Wah
Wampler Ego (Compressor)
Dry Bell Vibe Machine V1 (Vibe)
Jetter Jetdrive (double Overdrive)
Mesa Boogie Throttle Box (Hi gain distortion)
Boss FV-500-H (Volume pedal, to adapt the loudness to each backing track)
Strymon Ola (Chorus)
Strymon Bluesky (Reverb)
Strymon El Capistan (Delay)

I'm not using the Mesa Boogie one in this demo and, the Boss FV-500-H was set once for the whole video.