Friday, October 29, 2010

Antisocial Distortion

As a guitarist, too much distortion seems impossible, right? That’s exactly what I’m facing though. In the great game of trading pedals, I’ve ended up with seven (seven!) fuzz/distortion/overdrive pedals that I love. I realize for most people this isn’t a problem. But for me it is, I only want to have as many pedals as will fit on my pedal board and these guys all have to share space with a tuner, compressor, clean boost, and Line 6 M9 for mod/echo/verb. So this means I have to cull the herd. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be working with the other guitarist in my band to blind test these pedals.

I’m hoping to start tonight with my “Marshall in a Box” pedals – the Lovepedal ProValve 1 and the Zvex Distrotron. My non-blind testing favors the ProValve but I’m as guilty as anyone else for falling for hype and the ProValve certainly comes with a lot of hype. And while it has two switchable gain settings, the ProValve is pretty much a one trick pony. It’s a well-done trick though, sweet, thick, cranked amp grind. The lowest gain setting sounds like an amp on 11, cranking any further just thickens the sound some but doesn’t really pile on more gain. I’d like this pedal more for rhythm if it had a little less gain. But for playing lead, it’s just amazing.

The Distortron on the other hand is far more versatile. It’s overall tone is a little rougher around the edges. It might be my ears, but the ProValve seems a tad scooped in the mids. The Distortron has plenty of mids and in doing so, played side-by-side with the ProValve sounds a little hash. But most of the testing has been done with my Weber Blue Pup equipped Vox AC4 (which is pretty mid-focused to begin with). I’m looking forward to running these guys through my Reverend Goblin and closed-back Avatar 12 tonight.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

For the Love of Wood

A few days ago, I got to thinking about all of the things I’ve threatened to write about in this blog. It occurred to me that there is a common thread that connects guitars, BBQ, and wine – WOOD.

Mahogany, Korina, Maple, Rosewood, and Ash – these five woods come together in varying mixtures to create the snappy twang of my Strat (maple and ash), the thick singing leads of my Reverend Roundhouse (Korina, Maple, and Rosewood), and the roundness of my Jazzmaster (Ash, Maple, and Rosewood).

To read more about wood as used in electric guitars, check out the Electric Guitar Source Book by Dave Hunter and the brief article he did for Guitar Player.

Oak – how I love the. Oak makes both the charred barrels that my delicious bourbons age in and the resting place for so many wines. Oak even provides the hints of vanilla in my Stone Oak Aged Arrogant Bastard. And grilling a steak over red hot oak embers brings new meaning to grilling.

Hickory, cherry, apple, and mesquite – Along with oak, these woods provide the smoke that defines the greatest culinary tradition in the US – BBQ. Rather than try to define the flavors created by these woods, I will refer to an excellent piece that Jim Shahin recently wrote in the Washington Post.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

P90 Noir Book Club - Booze Hound!

My wife gives me a lot of crap about buying books. And I do have a lot of cook books, books about guitars and music gear, books about songwriting, books about sharks, books about kayaking… Ok, maybe she has a good point. We have a great local library, and they often order the books that I request.

But sometimes, you just have to own a book. Such is the case with Boozehound: On the Trail of the Rare, the Obscure, and the Overrated in Spirits by Jason Wilson (the spirits columnist for the Washington Post). I’ve been reading Jason’s work in the Post for a while now and I love that he never misses a chance to point out the ridiculous notion of premium vodka and spending $30 on a spirit that isn’t supposed to taste like anything.

Last July, Jason switched up my cocktail drinking routine by introducing me to the Boulevardier. It’s basically a Negroni, but with Bourbon in place of the gin. It’s delicious! So take it from me - ditch the vodka, buy the book, make a Boulevardier, and then keep going. Next up for me is to finally try Chartreuse. Maybe I’ll even write about the experience.

Oh, and my wife has been reading Boozehound as well…

The Recipe for the Boulevardier -

This cocktail is the Negroni's long-lost, whiskey-based cousin. It was named after a 1920s magazine for expats living in Paris that was run by socialite Erskine Gwynne.

1 serving
• Ice
• 1 1/2 ounces bourbon
• 1 ounce sweet vermouth
• 1 ounce Campari
• Twist of lemon peel, for garnish

Fill a mixing glass halfway with ice. Add the bourbon, sweet vermouth and Campari. Stir vigorously for 30 seconds, then strain into a cocktail (martini) glass. Garnish with the twist of lemon peel.

Recipe Source:
Adapted from "Barflies and Cocktails," by Harry McElhone (1927; reissued 2008, Mud Puddle Books).

Monday, October 4, 2010

Let them listen to (Hot)Cake

I’ve been wanting a Hotcake for a while, mainly because it’s on the pedalboards of Stephen Malkmus and Nels Cline –two of my favorite guitarists. So far, I’m loving this pedal. It also has a great buffer circuit that has my tone through the pedalboard sounding almost exactly like my straight to amp tone!

For a bit of history, the Hotcake was first produced in 1976 by Paul Crowther (a DRUMMER!) with the band, Split Enz.

According to Paul, “the Hotcake is designed to leave the undistorted component of the guitar sound unchanged, while providing a nice fat distortion sound without resorting to a treble cut circuit which will also affect the guitar tonality. With the Drive and Presence controls set to minimum, and the Level at around 2 o'clock, you should be hard pressed to hear any change in the sound at all when you switch the Hotcake in and out.” I’ve tested this and I agree 100%

I have the “Normal” original Hotcake. There was also a “Bluesberry” version which has a less buzzy edge at the onset of distortion. The buzz is what I was after. I imagined the Hotcake being the source for the tone at the intro of Silence Kit and that “wiggly” distorted part at the start of Stereo. It nails both tones. If I were to guess were it appears on Sky Blue Sky, I would say that Nels is using it on the solo for Side with the Seeds.

It also does great low gain tones and works well as a clean boost. If you keep it below 11 o’clock on gain the distortion is very amp like. Moving it up brings on what I would call fuzz – but a very smooth fuzz. Something about it really reminds of the tones on Siamese Dream as well. When you crank the gain all of the way, chords start to get a little muddy (with humbuckers and P90s). I plan to use it mainly for leads though. It also makes for great controllable feedback.

Any way you slice it, the Hotcake is awesome. Crowther Hotcake Review 

Cool Cat Fuzz

Am I the only person who just loves the Danelectro Cool Cat Fuzz? I bought it about 18 months ago for $30 bucks and it continues to be my favorite fuzz pedal. I have a ZVex Fuzz Factory on the way (sold my Lovepedal Englishman for it) so maybe the Cool Cat with finally be dethroned. But it will still be the best fuzz for under $150!

I have tried it side-by-side with:
  • ZVex Mastotron
  • Dunlop Jimi Hendrix Fuzz (the old two knob black box version)
  • Visual Sound Angry Fuzz
  • EH Big Muff (large box NYC version)
  • EH Holy Stain (worst and noisiest pedal I have ever owned)
  • Guyatone HM2 Harmonic Distortion (called distortion, but to my ears sounds very similar to a muff)
My feelings on the Cool Cat are that it’s pretty versatile in terms of gain and tone and that it cleans up well from the volume control of the guitar. Word on the street is that the Cool Cat is a clone of the Frantone Peach Fuzz. Not sure how I feel about Dano “stealing” the design, but I do know that of the pedals listed above the only one that competes with the Cool Cat is the Mastotron. The Mastotron is more versatile and the subs switch is cool and makes for a much tighter low end. The pulse wave is also fun and makes for some very synth-like sounds.

I did a blind test between the Mastotron and the Cool Cat with the co-guitarist in my band switching between the two pedals and adjusting the dials while I played. The Mastotron won in most cases (especially for single note leads). But for $30 the Cool Cat Fuzz just kills!