17 March 2015

My custom Southern Belle Guitars' Strato is here!


One day many months ago, I was viewing some demo video about a new set of pickups that David Allen was releasing. Such pickups were mounted in a guitar that sounded really killer. It was a Southern Belle Guitars' Cabronita (Tele).

Just discussing about it with David, He said me that those guitars were fantastic and, that He wanted to buy a couple for his store and, asked me I was interested on having a guitar from them. Well, some days after, He introduced me to Morgan Mitcham, who runs Southern Belle Guitars. I justed wanted to know if She could make some kind of hot rodded Strato to my specifications and, since She had no issues, we had an agreement.

If it's difficult to see a woman playing electric guitars, it's even more difficult to know a woman that works building guitars !!!. That made the decision even more interesting to me.

4 or 5 months since I've ordered Her, 1 more month in Customs clearing and, half month for the final setup. Was a looooong waiting time and, when her finally came home I had a mix of feelings: exciting because her was here and, worried... would her sound that good?, worthed her the time and money?. I made some risky decision, would her be comfortable?.

My specifications

I wanted the following:

  • Mapple neck and fretboard
  • Compound radius (9.5" - 14")
  • Soft-V neck profile
  • Strato body with a beveled neck pocket, for easier access to lower frets
  • Cherry Burst color
  • Perloid pickguard
  • Black knobs and pickup covers
  • Staggered locking tuning keys, Schaller, preferently (as the Fender Deluxe Strato)
  • Fender Deluxe floating bridge or alike (Ultra Strat bridge).
  • My own wiring design, with an S-1 switch/pot
  • Bone nut
  • Absolutely not micro-tilt system
  • Preserve the purest strato sound, choosing the woods
Morgan guided me about the finishing (satinated nitro) and, presented several options, during our agreements.

What I wanted is to preserve the good things of a Fender Deluxe Strato and, to fix the things that I don't like so much.
By example, the soft-V neck provides just the right amount of extra wood, compared to a modern C-shaped neck, to add body and resonance to the instrument.
The beveling of the neck pocket of the Deluxe is of help but, not enough to my taste.
I don't like the LRS nut, because I find it as adding to much hi end, and giving a very metallic touch to the sound.
I don't like the micro-tilt system, because it creates a dumb area around frets 14-17 and, strings 2 to 5, that kill the sustain of the notes. The carved area and that metallic mechanism kills the overall sustain and, very specially affects to mentioned frets.
I find that a good bone nut makes the attack more snappy, something I like.
Maybe the color cannot be a key decision respect of sound, but I never liked any of the colors that Fender released for Deluxe Stratos and, I particularly love that Cherry Burst.

David Allen was going to provide a set of Furys (think on Robin Thrower) for this axe but, maybe we didn't clarified this point to Morgan so, the axe came with a set of Dovers (which are one of the best sets of DA Pickups).

Opening the box

The guitar came with neck and body separated. This is an overall look of the neck and fretboard. The fretwork was perfect (well leveled, sanded and crowned). The touch of the satinated nitro was really good, as suggested by Morgan.
A detail of the nut and peghead. Morgan decide to make the nut of Tusq, since She considers that Stratos sound better with such a material. I still want to check the sound with a bone nut. Maybe, I will come back to tusq, who knows it!.

And, this is an overall view of the body. That Cherry Burst looked killer, among the rest of components.

And, here a detail of the special shape of the neck pocket and area around, which allows a better access to low frets.

Testing sound and feeling

The guitar plays like a dream and, the sound is perfect. Her has a nice resonance, body and sustain and, bell-like sounds that are a pleasure. Compared with an Eric Johnson model I've tested in a Store, is maybe 3 steps over and, compared to the moded Deluxes I and my friend own, is a couple of steps over.

One of the things that firstly called my attention was her weight. She is surprisingly lighter than any other Strato I've ever tested. Maybe the wood has more open cells, I dunno.

Since I was experimenting D'Addario NYXL1046 strings for a couple of months in my Deluxe, and loved the results, that's the set of strings I've mounted in this axe, as well. I find this NY series as having more tuning stability and, third and second strings seem more consistently sounding.

I wanted that my fellow friend Robert Tirado make the demo of this axe, because this man has a magical touch that can get everything from an axe and, this axe owe it. I was just hearing the guitar, which is a more objective way of analyzing the sound.

My other fellow friend, Alex Tirado, brother of the former one, was the luthier doing the final setup, before the demo / test.  I wanted to make the test with my regular gig.

Robert went first demoing the typical five strato positions, from neck to bridge, in clean.
After we heard really excited all the bells, we wanted to see if the guitar was able to aggressively roar and, we tested it with a high gain configuration. Total craziness!. The sound was hitting hard our guts and, there was a really nice feedback effect; not uncontrolled whistles but, a really nice feedback effect.
Finally, Robert improvised over some backing tracks. The video has just two of the many that were played that day.

After I was fully satisfied with what I've heard, it was my time but, nothing was recorded then. This will be my #1 from now so, any new video will be made with this axe (if a Strato is involved).

This is the video...

And the Gear...

The amp is a Fender '59 Bassman LTD, with a retrofitting set from Watford Valves, that includes a couple of NOS JAN/Philips 6L6 (well, in fact, they are 5881) tubes. The two lower stock Jensen P10R speakers where swapped with a couple of Celestion Gold. Here you are the settings:

And, here an overall view of the pedalboard:

The gain section is absolutely new. The three Bogner's and the Lovepedal Kalamazoo make a killer combination. I will probably swap the position of the Kalamazoo with the Harlow but, alone or combined these pedals rock hard !.

And here, the settings for each individual pedal, so you don't need to ask.

03 March 2015

Bogner Wessex - First impressions


Not so long before, Bogner released three pedals (Ecstasy Blue, Red and Uberschall) that had a good acceptance by musical world. Those three were designed to cover mythical Bogner amps' tones and, they deliver such tones really nicely.

Now, Bogner seems interested into create a line of pedals that don't try to mime Bogner amps' tones. The aim of these new pedals is to interactuate with your amp and, provide virtual "channels" but, respecting the soul of your amp.

This new line has something really interesting. Each pedal works with an audio transformer designed by the studio guru Rupert Neve. In studio's outboard devices and, in amps, transformers are a key part of the sound and, the finest audio devices have very carefully designed ones.

The only pedal that I personally remember having a transformer is the Butler Audio Tube Driver. It's a toroidal transformer, maybe, needed because of the 12AU7 tube that drives the tone. Maybe, other tube-based drive pedals have one, I dunno.

The fact is that the new line of Bogner pedals catch my attention a lot more than their Ecstasy line. This line of Bogner-Neve pedals had the Harlow (a booster with some compression available), the Oxford (Flexdrive, whatever it means), the Wessex (Overdrive) and the Burnley (Distortion).
It seems that the Oxford finally dropped out of the series.

I was accidentally in a musical store (Auvisa) and, tried the Wessex (the only one they had there). Well, the pedal finally came with me to home!.


Everything in this pedal, from the box to the pedal itself is classy. The pedal is built like a tank but, with a very clean and cute design (case, knobs, everything). There are versions of this pedals with the top of the case in bubinga wood. Not mine.

Knobs are: Level, Gain, Treble and Bass and, there is a two positions switch that changes the circuit behavior from Normal (N) to Enhanced (E) modes.

Components are first class. You just need to read the tech specs to understand that every component was carefully choose to achieve the tone Bogner had in mind.

Everything smells quality and, it's probably one of the best made pedals I've owned or seen.


It's a very transparent overdrive, in the sense that every string is clearly heard, even with complex inharmonic chords.
The voice is crunchy, uncompressed, clear and defined. But, it respects the soul of your amp and guitar, anyway.
Tone controls have a wide range and, allow you to fine tune your sound.

The gain range is surprisingly short, specially in Normal mode (the most transparent EQ). If you are after an overdrive with a good amount of gain, this is not your pedal. In every sense, it remembers me the Xotic BB pedal but, with a better sound. The amount of gain is similar and, the voice of the pedal is alike, very crunchy (but, one of the best crunches I've heard).

The Enhanced mode adds some low and high end to your sound and, provides a bit more of gain.


I see it to be used to put tubes on their sweet spot and, it covers very well light overdrive tones. Provides a nice 'crunch' virtual channel and, it's very suitable for Rock & Roll songs.
It can be used to feed other gain pedals also, but, it hasn't gain enough itself for dirty lead tones.
Imagine a Wampler Euphoria on its crunch mode or, a Xotic BB and, you are in the ballpark, respect of overall sound and gain levels but, the Wessex has its own sound and, I liked it more than the former ones. I'm just missing a pinch more of gain, maybe.

I'm waiting three more pedals that I would like to test combined with the Wessex: Lovepedal Kalamazoo, Bogner Harlow and Bogner Burnley. Will do some video with them, after I find the best combinations of all them.

A bit more about the Neve transformer

It seems that the transformer designed by Rupert Neve is used in the same way an Output Transformed is used in every amp, to deliver the final sound to the speakers.
If you are familiar with amp's OTs, you already know that transformers are a key piece for that final sound and feeling of the amp and, every great amp designer takes very seriously the OT.

Swapping the transformer can be a great enhancement. You will know a lot of people going for Mercury transformers to upgrade their Marshall amps, by example.
Probably, it shouldn't be part of the tone, according to pure electrical magnitudes but, the truth is that they are part of the tone of an amp.

Exactly the same occurs with studio gear, where the magic of Rupert Neve (among a very short group of gurus) is worldwide acclaimed.

It seems that Neve's design was oriented to provide nice musical harmonics on high and low ends.
The Enhanced mode of the Wessex is clearly different from the Natural mode. In the former one, the harmonical content is specially rich in the high end range of frequencies and, the sound is, overall, beautifuler and, cuts the mix with a better attitude. It remembers me as the magic that happens when you switch on the Xotic EP Booster, everything seems to be the same but, the sound is just better, without understanding what goes in the background.

I think Butler Audio, in his Tube Driver, is using that toroidal transformer as an Input Transformer, instead of an Output Transformer, because the pedal is being directly plugged to your wall socket.
If that's true then, Bogner's pedals with designed by Neve OT pedals are unique in pedal effects world. No one, before Bogner, used that approach.

Youtube videos always lost quality and, specially in the range of frequencies that have the finest nuances. I would recommend you to test this line of pedals in a physical store. Better if you do that with a guitar equal or similar to yours and, in an amp that's equal or similar to yours. They deliver some harmonic richness that is difficult to find in other pedals (even previous Bogner's ones!), while maintaining a great string-by-string, note-by-note separation.

The final sound can or cannot be your wanted sound but, they worth the time to try them.